The Truth about this local residential care provider
From the age of nineteen I worked in a residential home setting, first as a carer with the elderly, later becoming a manager of a twenty eight bed residential home for the elderly. I later trained as a massage therapist and for twenty years specialised in the field of special needs of many different kinds, working in various care settings. Over twenty five years I have been into a very large number of homes in residential settings and found that pretty much all of them put profit-making very high on their agenda, often ahead of a good standard of care.
With this thought in mind, and having recently read some slightly negative press about Surecare in Dunmow, I went to meet Simon Barr who runs this new home recently opened in Woodlands Park in Great Dunmow, to find out the real story. I met up with Simon and his wife Emma for a very interesting and extremely informative chat over a coffee. Simon explained that Essex County Council, like other local councils, have started closing larger homes with a view to housing children in smaller more homely environments or alternatively putting them in foster care. Until recently Great Dunmow housed The Old Manse, an old fashioned and rather archaic residential care home in the town. Surecare homes are run from a totally different and very modern perspective. There are currently only two children residing at the home in Dunmow although they have permission for up to five children but Simon doesn’t intend to go above four. Surecare also own a more established home in Braintree, a six bedroomed house where again Simon chooses to keep the numbers down to four children.
An incredibly open, honest and friendly individual now in his mid-thirties, Simon disclosed that he was brought up in care himself. The son of a vicar who committed suicide, Simon found his life went severely downhill at this point; his behaviour became wild and he became involved in the drug scene. He was taken into care and put in a large home as was common in those days. If there was any crime or problems locally the police put the blame on the kids in the local care home, who would be punished accordingly, despite the fact they were often not to blame. Very unhappy, Simon left and lived on the streets for 4 months at the age of just 13; here he would sleep in the day time and stay awake at night as he said it was too dangerous to sleep at night when you had to have your wits about you. He was eventually taken back into care and it became apparent that being the orphan of clergy the church was obliged to take responsibility for him. As a result they paid for Simon to attend a very exclusive private school, an incredible and absolute change for Simon! Here he shared a dorm with Orlando Bloom among others! Sadly after a year Simon said his differences (when compared to the other children there) became overwhelmingly apparent and he was forced to leave. He was taken back into the care system and during this time Simon vowed to himself that when he was older he wanted to open his own care home, running it in the way he thought it should be run, rather the archaic system he was struggling with every day.
Simon went through very difficult times over the next few years finally starting work as a voluntary carer aged 23 when he was literally penniless and pretty desperate. Starting work in a care home in London he was again reminded of the very bad quality of care, with long waiting lists for things like psychological help. He also worked at a home in Hertfordshire where there were just three staff for thirteen children; Simon felt this was impractical and ludicrous, making it impossible to provide a decent standard of care. As an insider he noticed how much money the home made but were not putting back into the system nor making any improvements. Feeling depressed by what he saw Simon left the field of care instead setting up a building company which went on to do quite well.
After a time, with his dream of setting up a good care home for children still in mind, Simon’s friend offered to help provide financial backing and they spent a long time researching the possibilities. Simon realised that it could be done, a really good care home was possible if you were prepared to plough all profits back in and wait for a decade or two to see a profit. To Simon, the priority was to ensure that all staff would receive detailed training, to focus on staff development to train them to do their very best to care appropriately for the children.
Simon explained that when you set up a home with under seven residents you do not need to apply for planning permission. This is fantastic as it means the children can be looked after and brought up in a setting that is as close to a family home setting as possible, without people around seeing them as different or problematic and trying to label them rather than allowing them to live their lives. Indeed, the home in Braintree was open for nine months before anyone noticed this was anything other than a normal family situation and even then it was only because some stray post said Surecare on it and went to the wrong address. There was no reason for anyone nearby to have any concerns. There are at all times three staff to four children (aged between twelve and eighteen). There is even always someone awake all through the night to deal with any concerns. The children get to go on holidays (recently one child enjoyed their first ever holiday to Prague staying at a 4 star hotel with a one to one carer. Fabulous! One of the children at Surecare was in 13 different foster homes in one year; since coming toSurecare their behaviour has calmed down and improved hugely, unimpaired by constant change and with kindness and support. Surecare have bought their homes so they are there to stay, ensuring constancy in the child’s life.
Surecare insist on an amazing level of training for their staff at huge cost to the company, paying for one hundred and twenty hours training a year and spending £109,000 per year on training; this is an incredible amount of their income, demonstrating Surecare’s total dedication to running a home in the very best way possible. Psychologist Cheryl Massey carries out the training and Simon listed loads of different training courses his staff undergo including learning about challenging behaviour, managing incidents, peer supervision, belief systems, brain mapping, school attendance, attachment and independence, key working, restrain training and lots more. Emma is in charge of child protection, staff training and first aid and seems to have the same incredible work ethic as her husband. Emma explained that their nine year old comes with them to the homes and loves interacting with the older children. This is definitely a family affair.
Unfortunately Simon has been disappointed at the response he has had from neighbours since opening the home in Dunmow. Suspicious about why there is a care home nearby, some of the neighbours have tried everything to find complaints against them, even staring in the windows and taking pictures which would be upsetting for anyone but is doubly detrimental for children who have already had difficulties and insecurities in their life. What these children need is care, help and support to set them on a path to independence and happiness for their future life which is what Surecare are providing for them. Surely as a community we should be congratulating and supporting Surecare for being such a fantastic team, not making the precious work they do harder. The two children in the home in Dunmow have never gone out without staff as they are in a new area so to accuse them of causing any trouble is futile. Simon explained to me that no-one in their home is dangerous, they would be in secure units if they were. These are not criminals but juveniles who need care and understanding not prejudice and thoughtlessness. Surecare’s policy is social inclusion which is a vital part of these children’s wellbeing.
The local police force are encouraged to pop in for a coffee when they are on the beat, to help promote good relationships between the children and people in authority. Simon only recently found out that the police have an antisocial behaviour team but they have never had any involvement with them in either home, proving that these children are being cared for and sensibly guided in the very best way.
Ofsted reports have always been ‘good’ so Surecare have proved they provide strong provision of care. This means they are in the top 40% of care providers in the country and moreover they are very close to achieving an ‘outstanding’ which is the top 6%; this is certainly impressive for such a new care provider taking on challenging children who have been through difficult times. Simon strongly believes that small ‘homely’ environments like these with highly rained staff is the best way to help diminish these children’s challenging behaviours and difficulties, rather than less trained fosterers or larger homes where there is not enough one to one and certainly less training. This seems like an obvious and sensible way forward to me.
Simon and Emma continue to live in a council house ploughing everything they can back into the business they are so passionate about. This is not just an average care provider; I can say hand on heart that it is way above anything I have ever come across before in my years in the care industry. Here in Dunmow we are incredibly lucky that this local home is run by such thoughtful and respectful people. Let’s all get behind them to ensure that they can carry out their work smoothly and effectively, not hindered by the fear and ignorance of people who don’t want to understand.