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Mayfield & Framfield — East Sussex 01435 872 201

Making a career in residential child care

Find out how Olly White’s career path has allowed him to support and inspire young people and develop a career that he loves.

When I was at school, I decided that I wanted to work in the city as a Stockbroker in London, I took A level subjects based on that type of career but after studying economics and business studies at A level, I quickly realised that it wasn’t for me!  Looking back, I should have picked subjects that I enjoyed rather than those I thought would be good for a career but at that age, it is hard to see the full picture and I ended up not finishing the course and deciding to get a job instead.

I had a couple of friends that worked in a supermarket who said that it was a nice environment to work in and the pay was OK so I thought I might try it for a while.  I needed a job, and it was an easy commute, so I applied for a job while I decided what I really wanted to do.

I progressed to running a section, including doing the paperwork and stock ordering but I realised that it was the customer interaction that I enjoyed.  I loved to be on the checkouts where I would get to know some of the regulars.  I tried to be helpful to every customer I served, talking to them and helping them to do it their way and I began to notice that even if my checkout queue was longer than others, people would still choose to wait in the queue to speak to me!

During my time at the supermarket, I volunteered to do any customer facing role that enabled me to help people.  I developed great people skills and saw a diverse range of people; from business people who might be in a rush or stressed, couples choosing their shopping together, families with young children, elderly people coming regularly for small shops and some social time and young people and adults with disabilities who were coping on their own or with carers to help them.

It was whilst on the checkout that I wondered if a caring role would be a good choice of career.  A young person with learning disabilities had an incident and started to throw things around.  I was really impressed with the way the carers calmly dealt with the situation and I spoke to them about where they worked and what it was like to be a support worker.

When I got home, I looked on the website and applied.  At that time, after the interview you were offered the chance to ‘experience’ a house and work with the young people for a couple of hours.  I really enjoyed this, and I knew that I had made the right choice.  I ended up staying until 10 o’clock in the evening, it was a nice feeling, and I was thrilled to be offered the job.

Although those initial thoughts on a career in care are still with me, the reality of being a support worker soon hit.  I had to quickly learn the basic skills such as washing clothes and cooking for several people – my signature dish of cheese on toast wasn’t going to carry me through!  My fellow support workers were always helpful and supportive, and I had great training, but you learn most quickly by getting on with it!  The first time I was asked to help a child in the bath was interesting.  I wasn’t sure what I needed to do and was worried as the young person in the bath also suffered with epilepsy.  It all went well and although I ended up soaked in water, I grew in confidence with every new situation I dealt with.

I progressed as a support worker and was promoted to a key worker role.  I wasn’t sure about the extra paperwork and report writing and initially panicked, but with great support and determination I ended up enjoying the extra responsibility.  A year or so went by and an opportunity came up in a different house as an assistant manager, I went for this and was successful, a few years later I felt ready to apply for a House Manager role.  This was a lot more responsibility for me and was in a house where the children had very high day to day needs and struggled to communicate.

At this point, my girlfriend and I decided that we wanted to buy a house.  Unfortunately, we couldn’t afford to buy what we wanted in the area we were in, so we bought a house in a slightly different area.  Sadly, this meant that the commute to work was over an hour and although I loved my job, and knew I wanted to stay in a caring role, I thought that it was time for a change. 

I saw a job for a Deputy Manager role at a residential home for young people who had complex trauma and attachment related difficulties.  As part of the interview process, the young people interviewed me.  I remember one of the questions was, “What do you think about people who abuse children?”  This really put me on the spot, of course I knew what I thought but how to convey that to a panel of children who had suffered that abuse?  It made me feel accountable, and when I heard that I had got the job, the deep questions that they had asked really gave me a sense of purpose to do right by them.

On my first day, I knocked on the door and a young girl opened it with the welcome, “who the xxxx are you?”  Not the warmest of starts to a new job but I went with it!  Again, I found myself in a learning situation, working with these young people who have been let down throughout their lives and helping them choose a different path.  Although it was a challenge, it was incredibly rewarding, and we achieved some good outcomes.  I also learned a lot about joint working by dealing with the Youth Offending Team, Sussex Police, Missing Persons Team and Substance Misuse Team.

Whilst in this job, I attended a child protection training course. Part of the course was to role play which is something that I enjoy, and I really got stuck in!  I found out later, that Chris and Emma from PJL Healthcare were on that course.  A couple of weeks later I got an email to say that PJL were looking for a Registered Manager for Mayfield Children’s Home and they had seen me at the course and wondered if I wanted to learn a bit more. I got in contact, an interview was arranged and I was thrilled to accept a new challenge, supporting young people with learning disabilities.

After a couple of years at Mayfield, an opportunity came up at PJL’s other home at Framfield as Deputy Manager, I went for this role and am pleased to say that I was successful. Framfield is a very different home, supporting young people with SEMH needs and I am enjoying the new challenge.

I really think that a career in care is where I am destined to be and although it can be very stressful, it is so rewarding.

Looking back at what I have achieved so far, I really believe that you don’t get anywhere in life unless you put yourself out there and take a leap of faith.  It’s hard to know what you want to do as a career when you first start out, but I try not to say ‘no’ to opportunities and see where it takes me …