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Alison O'Sullivan ...
Alison O'Sullivan

'It's not what I expected' seems to be a phrase I hear a lot at the moment. So far, we've opened three new children's homes in the Bradford district and they've exceeded everyone's expectations.

No one seems quite sure what they expect to see when they visit the new homes, but the environment we've created opens their eyes to the way we care for vulnerable children.

The plan was to open five new children's homes in 12 months. The whole scheme which is the biggest project of its type in the country, should be complete by this time next year.

Our biggest challenge is to provide the best possible care for our vulnerable children. Having to send some away to be cared for in other areas doesn't make that job any easier.

That makes it difficult for the children to remain near family and friends. This means social workers have more difficulty helping the youngsters and it makes the whole process much more expensive. Five new homes mean up to 40 more children at a time can be cared for in our district.

Staff also have the extra boost that comes from working in a pleasant, modern environment. As well as attracting new people to our department, the homes provide new opportunities for existing staff.

A number of them have already benefited from our career progression system. Unit managers and senior residential social workers are gaining national vocational qualifications and on the job training. At the same time, trainee social workers negotiate the first steps of the career ladder. Leadership has been a significant issue for the project and the role played by interim chief executive Philip Robinson has been significant.

We have also educated local people on the reality of children's homes. For some it conjured up images of delinquent youngsters causing problems. But the reality is far from that. We have worked hard through all manner of meetings, surgeries, leaflets and open days to show people the truth about both the homes and the children they care for.

We are determined to see excellent local care for local children and the new homes are helping us to take a big leap forward.

Alison O'Sullivan

Social services director, Bradford City MDC

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