Talk to us about fostering 01722 442 725

Spotlight On: Avon House Children’s Home

Whenever I mention the words ‘Children’s Home’, to many the image that immediately springs to mind is that of Tracy Beaker, the ‘gobby’ ten year old created by Jacqueline Wilson and portrayed on television by Dani Harmer, in ‘The Story of Tracy Beaker’ whilst I was growing up; an image which I’m sure is continuing with the current incarnation – ‘The Dumping Ground’.

To most, the world of Residential Child Care is unlikely to be experienced, 75% of looked after children are in Foster Care placements. In 2015, 510 children and young people were placed in a residential children’s home. I was fortunate enough to spend one evening in Avon House, our residential girls children’s home in Salisbury to experience this world.

I’ve been working for Five Rivers’ Head Office for 8 months before undertaking this shadow shift, working for the previous 2 months in the Commercial team, and before that working in our HR Department, meaning I had interviewed for Residential staff, however, I had never set foot in a children’s home prior to this experience. Having now completed a shadow shift, my perception of Residential Child Care has changed enormously.

The night before I did the shadow shift, my mum said ‘I wish there was something I could do to help’, my response was; ‘There is, – why not do some sessional work? You’ve raised three children – why not try it out?’ Needless to say, the idea didn’t go down terribly well, and the idea was dropped.

I don’t know the reasons why my mum wasn’t very keen on the idea, but I imagine that it is something of a step into the unknown, and people don’t understand the traumas which have affected the children, after all how can they?

Walking into Avon House, I wasn’t sure exactly what I was walking into. I wondered how the girls would react to me being there – would they like me? Would the staff like me? I was met by the home’s manager and she immediately made me feel at ease. The delicious smell of Roast Chicken was wafting through the house from the kitchen, and it struck me how homely the smell was.

She later invited me into the kitchen, and she made me a cup of tea in a Little Miss Sunshine mug – again a little touch, but so similar to walking into the family home. We then spoke about the plan for the evening, including how I would be spending some time with the girls, then dinner, chores, the nightly ‘Community Get Together’, and then off to Laser Quest at Outburst (a local spot for some laser tag).

The girls soon arrived home, and I helped one of them learn her Guide’s promise, and draw a penguin in her Guides book, it struck me how similar it felt to being a sister, gently encouraging and helping. We soon went into the pink living room (Avon has two living rooms – the pink one and the brown one), which I’m told the girls prefer, and the striking fuchsia paint on the walls certainly made me feel at home! The manager told me that the girls all had a say in the home’s decor and chose a pink and purple colour scheme for the house, which is lovely and the girls seem happy with their choices! Before dinner, they were both taking ‘selfies’ on their tablets – like normal young people. One of the girls wants to be a model, and has certainly captured the moody and distant look in her ‘selfies’ naturally, which of course, fits in with what the celebrities are doing these days.

Both were also showing off their gymnastics, and it struck me again how talented they are – it amazed me how flexible they are – one of the girls can even do the splits!

Dinner was soon ready, and there was a lot of banter over the dinner table, like a normal family, with those on shift teasing the girls and vice-versa, though the line was never crossed, and the girls clearly knew where this line was, and the likely outcomes should they cross it.

In addition to the manager there were two others on shift, the Shift Leader and a Residential Support Worker, it was clear to me that Avon House has a close knit team working there. Once dinner was finished, the girls did their chores, and with the staff, cleared away the dinner things, and laid the table for breakfast the next morning. As a guest, I was told to sit and relax whilst they got on with it. This gave me an opportunity to observe a well-oiled machine, and I was able to take in my surroundings.

My attention was drawn to the notice boards on the kitchen wall. The notice boards contained a great deal of information – the menu for the week, and the activities for each day of the week, as well as the staff rota. This ensures that the girls know the pattern for the week. What draws my attention most though, is the picture of one of the girls and the manager, they look happy together, like mother and daughter.

Once the chores are completed, we go into the playroom for ‘Community Get Together’. This is a house meeting each evening, where they discuss different issues. The Shift Leader who led the meeting, clearly set out rules for tonight’s activity at laser quest and how she expected the girls to act, where we would all be sitting in the car, and I realised that the girls responded well to this. The evening went off without a hitch, and the girls were fantastic.

At Laser Quest, we were told the rules, and then we all went our separate ways into the arena. The shrieks and laughter which soon filled the arena were those of a family, when the game was over, and we had to depart, it was a happy group which left, and I was fortunate enough to be joining the team for the evening, but to feel part of them too.

There is a reason why Avon is called a Care Home, and not a Care House. My experience at Avon, has shown me that the staff try to provide their young people with a proper loving, stable place to live, somewhere they feel safe and valued, where the staff really care about them. Somewhere where they can feel happy, and have fun. Like being in a real family. This is exactly what Avon is, not a nuclear family, but an unconventional family.

The home’s Manager once said to me, “I can’t be expected to work miracles”, but in my mind, she and her team do. Both girls seem very settled, and they both seem to be happy at Avon, when my time in Avon came to an end, one of the girls wished me good night, and thanked me for coming out with them. I was touched by this, and I realised just what a difference a place like Avon can make to someone’s life.

Enquire Today

Do you feel you have the energy and true commitment to make a positive difference to a child’s or young person’s life?

Get in Touch
Request a Call