Worked at St Michael's for over 18 years

Former residential service manager Ronald came to work for us in 2001. Here he tells us, what made him stay for so long, the role’s biggest challenges and why he thinks our work is crucial. The photo shows him and his deputy manager, Sonia. 

What has kept you motivated, to keep pursuing and excelling in your job?

It has been the same kind of work, but every day has been different. We work with families for intense short periods, which has helped to keep me here. There has always been a turnover of families. Initially, I thought that I would come for my therapy training, for two or three years and move on, but St Michael’s Fellowship kind of captures you.

We make a difference whenever we intervene with families and that is something which I will miss when I leave.  What you are doing is real and immediate, you do not get that in many places. I like the creativity we are given to look to make a difference.

Where would the children of the parents you help be, without the work of our residential assessments?

They would be in chaos and face many difficulties. Because what we offer is an opportunity for parents to reflect on why their children have had or will have difficulties in their care. We offer them options with regards to what they can do about it.

Can you tell us more about your role as a house manager at St Michael's?

That is multifaceted. The opportunity to lead the team is a big one. The work that we do is about understanding how to get parents to relate to us so that safeguarding issues can be addressed. This tends to happen in a short space of time. We help parents to understand why they are a concern and what they can do to alleviate those concerns. Other major tasks include making sure that relationships with parents and stakeholders are constructive as well as writing high-quality reports and attending courts.

What have been some of the biggest challenges you have faced as a house manager at St Michael's?

Maybe, breaking down the resistance that parents come in with. Lots of them have been within the sphere of social services for a long time before they are referred to us. It is a challenge and also our strength; to be able to get parents on our side and then work with them.

I would say another challenge is getting parents to understand that we can be a support system, even though we are assessing them. As you know, St Michael’s has other spheres to its intervention and our parents have used some of our other services like domestic abuse support. I have found getting through to people to be the biggest challenge -although we are good at it. We have been pioneers at St Michael’s Fellowship, and I have enjoyed that. I enjoy going to court and hearing the respect that people have for St Michael’s Fellowship and the work we do.

If anything, beyond that, it would be that a lot of the families who are coming to us now are different, in that their issues are more intense because the preventative work that would have been done in the past is not being done now. I think that is due to funding and the impact of shrinking services.

Parents may find it intrusive to be observed. What do you do to show them that you are here to help them and secure a better future for their child?

It is about respect and building a working professional relationship. Little things are so important. For instance, explaining what our role will be and asking parents to visit before the assessment begins. Coming here is a huge decision and one where the outcome may be them having their child removed from their care. It’s important they have a greater understanding of us and the opportunity to ask any necessary questions. I know that meeting with professionals such as social workers will be important, but we insist on parents visiting as well.

It’s important to be honest with them, not patronize them, and to explain present challenges to them so that they know what we are thinking. We also have feedback sessions, which are available for them to read. We try to be as honest, transparent and respectful as we can. Those things help, and whilst they may be simple, they are significant.

What are some of the things you have learnt over the years in your role as a service manager?

I have learnt how to use clarity, to progress or develop the relationship you have with parents. Especially when they are already second-guessing you and are quite wary of you. It is very important that the ways of working do not get stale, because the way of working with one parent will need to be different from another. You have to get to know the person - I like the opportunity that parents themselves have to learn here.

I also learnt how to deliver information or news that people may not want to hear. How to be sensitive about that. Then what to do once that information has been delivered. This can be seen in the Securing Change programme that St Michael’s is developing.

A lot of the times parents are not able to address the concerns fast enough. In these cases, separation is the only recommendation that we can offer. That is always tough, I have learnt how to deliver that information, without destabilising the parents. You do that incrementally, it is not something that you just arrive at. If you are being transparent and clear with the parents, when you arrive at the final decision, it allows them to understand the decision, even if they do not accept it. This will be because of the way you have respected the process.

What things will you miss the most after you leave St Michael's?

First of all the team. I have worked with many different people in my time here with St Michael’s, but our strength has always been that of the team. There is a good team in place, and I will miss them.

I have been privileged to represent the high standing that St Michael’s Fellowship has, I will miss that.

I will also miss the creativity and the freedom to develop your practice.

The way in which the needs of children and parents, can be explored without being held back.

I have made fantastic friendships and relationships with many people at my time with St Michael’s Fellowship, those who have left and left their imprint on me and those who are still remaining.  I will miss them and wish them well

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