What makes a good children’s home?

Date Posted: Saturday, 22 December 2007

I wrote this document in 1985 when I was asked by a woman who was considering starting a career in residential child care what I thought made a good children’s home. I not only found my mind filling with all sorts of ideas but I had to say to her that on the spur of the moment I could not give her a brief answer. I said that I would think about it and that I might be able to give her a clearer response in a few days time. Clearly my reply was not helpful because she never got back to me, but I was troubled that I had been unable to formulate an answer for her. I continued however to think about her question but every time I thought about it a kaleidoscope of images came to my head which I seemed to make no sense of except to come to the conclusion that the whole notion of a children’s home was very complex. I went back to thinking about what the woman had asked me and I imagined that she had been invited to visit a children’s home for a week prior to her interview for a job there and I thought about what she would see and experience. I was able then to think about the questions I would have suggested she should ask herself as she approached, entered and spent time in the home. I fancied that the answers she found to these questions might help her discover for herself what makes a good children’s home. When I’d finished compiling my catalogue of questions I thought that if I changed the questions into statements I might create an interesting induction paper for residential child care workers. In the event other, what seemed at the time more important, projects took priority and I did not write the paper. I had forgotten all about it until a few days ago when I was searching an old floppy disc for another piece that I had written and I came upon it again. When I read it, it occurred to me that it would be more useful as a training document if I left it as a list of questions since this would allow readers – as I had originally hoped the woman would – to reflect on their own ideas of what makes a good children’s home.

It is a long list with some questions which may now be outdated and have only a little historical interest, but I would argue that they still have something to offer those who have to think about what makes a good children’s home. You may notice some value-laden questions which echo some of the issues that were of particular concern to me at the time. You will also notice the absence of any references to minimal standards, risk assessment or health and safety, and yet I think these are implied in what I would argue is a more natural and dare I say it more homely way ? Please tell me what you think.

Charles Sharpe charlessharpe@dsl.pipex.com


What makes a good children’s home?


General impressions

As you approach the children’s home do you see a building situated in a locality and community which gives all the signals of being sympathetic to the needs of children and young people who are looked after in the public care system ?

Is it close to good public transport services which will allow easy access to the home for the families of the young people living there, and for the young people to visit their families and friends?

Is it within easy reach of the local schools and other public facilities such as the library, leisure centre, parks and shops ?

If the home is for young people who come from an urban community is it situated in a residential area in an urban locality ?

Does the house look similar to others in its street ?

Does it appear to be the kind of house a family would make a home in ?

When approaching the house whether it be along a garden path or a courtyard is the aspect which meets your eye attractive to you ?

Is the front garden interesting and well-maintained, or if it is a courtyard is it furnished with flowers in pots or hanging baskets to give it colour to compensate for the lack of a garden ?

Does the house look well cared for ?

Is it in a good state of repair ?

Is the external paintwork in good condition ?

Was arriving at the front door like arriving at the entrance of a family’s home ?

Was everything about the entrance welcoming, well-tended, yet human ?

Did the door bell work when you operated it ?

When you arrived were you greeted cheerfully by a member of staff or young person who lives at the home ?

Was your immediate impression of the physical environment of the interior of the house one of spaciousness on a scale consistent with a feeling of family homeliness.

Were the communal rooms of a comfortable size, clean and tidy but not sanitised ?

Were the furniture, and fittings of good quality and in good repair ?

After you had given your name, explained the reason for your call, did a member of staff confirm your identity ?

Were you will be welcomed in and then enabled to proceed with carrying out the purpose of your visit?

Did your welcome make you feel you were in a happy, welcoming, informal but organised place?
Did you think the young people seemed interested in being in the home?

Did they seem involved in the running of the home ?

Were there signs that they had influenced appearance of the home in a positive creative way ?



Like other human projects children’s homes are not perfect places, but if you saw any anti-social challenging behaviours were these being resolved, dealt with in a good parental way by the staff?

Did the staff respect the young people?

Did the young people respect the staff ?

Did the young people respect and acknowledge the leadership of the managers?

Did the managers respect the staff?

Did the staff respect the managers?

Was there warmth and friendliness between the young people and staff?

Was there warmth and unity in the staff team?

If there was mutual respect was this based on good relationships, or fear or authority roles?

Were the young people encouraged to sustain their relationships with their families ?

Did the young people have ready access to their social worker if they were unhappy about aspects of their care ?


Social climate of the home

Was the house noisy? If so, was it unduly noisy?

Would it have disturbed neighbours?

Was there a feeling of calm and easy control?

Was there mayhem, or chaos?

Was it out of control?

Was it clear who the young people could look to ensure they were safe in their environment?

Were the young people repressed?

Were they allowed to express their emotions, eg: anger?

Were they encouraged to express them in a safe way?

Did staff, male and female, take on authoritarian roles to maintain control?

Did they adopt stereotypical attitudes, eg: males – physically strong presence,
females – soft, gentle?

Did the young people have stereotyped attitudes towards the staff structure?
Nurture and Culture

Were the young people well clothed?

Were they clothed in a way typical of their total peer group?

Were there examples of them having been given a choice to maintain individual cultural and ethnic tastes and customs, in their clothing and in other aspects of their lives?

Were the young people bored or bright?

Did they look healthy in appearance?

Did their appearance reflect healthy self-esteem or did their demeanour suggest a low self-esteem?

Was care taken over meal-times by both young people and staff?

Did all the staff on duty make a point of eating with the young people at meal-times?

Did any staff or young people not attend meal-times? If so, why did you think that was?

Were meals strictly formal ? were they chaotic ? were they friendly but with the occasional altercation that may occur at a family meal?

Did young people and staff talk together at meal-times? Did they engage or did staff talk with staff, and young people only talk with other young people?

Did the young people help choose the menu?

Did the menu reflect their individual, ethnic or cultural tastes?

Was the food well prepared and presented? Or was it institutional?

Had the young people helped in its preparation and presentation (eg: assisted with cooking, setting the table)?

Were the staff interested in the food, its preparation and presentation?

Was there a feeling that food and meal-times were important ? that meals were an important family ritual, or were they something to get over with as quickly as possible?

Did the staff prepare the young people for bed times and did they settle them down sensitively?

Did the staff awaken the young people sensitively in the mornings ?



Did you see signs that children were interested in their education and schooling ?

Did the staff show an enthusiastic interest in the education of the children and young people ?

Was time set aside for homework to be done ?

Was a place set aside for homework to be done ?

Did staff show an interest in helping the young people with their homework ?

Were their bookshelves with up-to-date reference books and works of fiction ?

Were the young people helped to organise themselves for the next school day?

Were the young people encouraged in their educational pursuits in sensitive yet proactive way ?

Did the young people have schools to attend or other full-time educational provision ?

Did the young people attend school regularly ?

Were educational concerns and worries of the children and young people attended to assiduously by staff ?

Were educational achievements of the children and young people acknowledged and praised by the staff.

Was their evidence that staff liaised and engaged with the teachers at childrens’ schools ?

Were the staff interested in the recreation and culture of the young people, or were they indifferent?

Did they actively encourage and/or partake in such activities?

Did the staff take conscious actions to enrich the lives of the young people?

Were there materials, equipment, and information about local facilities made available to help enrich lives?

Was this availability ad hoc, was it dynamic ? ( that is, were new ideas considered)?

Were young people part of the debate about what is possible and what is not in the home?
Care Planning and the Direction of Care

Were the young people happy to allow staff to help counsel them on matters concerning their care, including family, peer, and group issues?

Did the young people seek out help on these matters ? were the discussions supportive?

Did the young people avoid seeking staff help on these matters?

Did the staff team seem well informed about the care of each of the young people?

Did the young people know why they were there?

Did the staff seem to know why the young people were there?

Did the staff feel they were helping the young people?

Did the young people feel they were being helped?

Did the young people have some hopes and targets for the future, or was this impossible because their social, familial and emotional situation was so chaotic?

If so, were the staff coping with this in a way that made the young people safe?

Did the young people appear to know why they were there and what was to happen to them?
Did the staff know what the purpose of the home was, why the young people were there and what their care plans were?


The morale of the staff team

Did the staff team seem enthusiastic or interested in their jobs? Did they want to talk to you about it?

Were they keen to spend time inducting you to the point where you understood each procedure?

Were they always happy to answer your questions?

Did they seem to know what they were talking about in terms of legislation, ethos, procedure?

Did the managers show willingness to spend time with you?

After your week did you feel that you had joined a supportive,
informed and protective team?
Ethos of the home

What was the ethos?

Were children and staff aware of the ethos of the home.

Were the staff appropriately open in their communications with the young people ? Openness of staff appropriate openness of the young people
Social centre of gravity of the children’s home.

Did the staff engage with the young people in their life space in the communal rooms or did engagement take place at the threshold of the staff office?

Were the staff aware of where each of the young people were, and what they were doing at all times ?


Administration : recording, money, medicines and some other things

Were all the required written records kept up to date without them taking up undue time that might have been better used for engagement with the young people ?

Was pocket money given out on time and administered and recorded correctly ?

Was the administration of medicine carried out sensitively and recorded accurately ?

Were regular fire drills carried out and properly recorded ?
Finally and not least, what about you ?

Did the visit make you think about yourself as a person ?

Did you think about why you might want to work in a children’s home ? Have you explored your motives for this ?

If you would like to work in a children’s home are there things about you that you think you will need to develop before you do so ?


© Charles Sharpe 2006