MSc Advanced Residential Child CareElaine Hamilton

Tell us a little bit about your background...
I grew up in a little village called Glenmavis, just outside of Airdrie.  This is where I met 3 of the most influential people in my life.  We became best friends in the winter of 1980 (when we were too small to even realise it) and have remained this way all through school, University & our adult lives.  These solid, life long relationships, I attribute very much to my understanding and beliefs around the importance of positive developmental relationships for all the children and young people whom I have the honour of walking alongside.

I left school thinking I wanted to be a teacher, but found myself graduating with a BA (hons) in Social Science and no clue about what to do next.  So, I decided to do some travelling and continue working in B&Q!  Then one evening, I came across an advert in the local paper for Residential child care workers – in honesty I had little clue what this entailed, but the advert struck a chord with me and so I applied.  I began my first post a few months later and it was then that I realised, I had even less than a little clue! Over the years, I have held a variety of posts, residential child care worker, social care worker in a children & families area team, street team youth worker & assistant educational psychologist.  All of them closely linked to residential child care and in 2009 I finally appreciated that this was where I wanted to spend the rest of my career.

I have experience at every level within residential child care and I think this has been fundamental in making me the leader & manager I am today.  It gives me a full appreciation of the roles, the challenges and overall drives my fundamental beliefs, around participation and relationship being key. This understanding of relationships has never been more crucial than now as we navigate our way through the impact of COVID-19 on how we know and experience Residential Child Care and how we develop an understanding of this for our children and young people.

Why did you decide to study Advanced Residential Child Care at university?
A colleague of mine had previously been on the course and every time he spoke about it, he lit up.  The learning, knowledge & ability to transfer this into his practice with our young people & his colleagues really captured me.  I had been working in Residential for over 10 years and felt it was time to expand my experience.  I am committed to a career in residential child care & therefore, it made perfect sense – I only wished I had done it sooner!

What was the highlight of your course?
It wasn’t one moment but lots of moments pulled together.  The conversations, observations and sharing of insight amongst my classmates really made the course for me.  I found myself surrounded by people who really got it.  They really appreciated the depth and the complexities of working in residential child care.  This gave me a real sense of community within the sector and opened my eyes to the realisation that other’s shared my passion and desires.

What key learning/skills did you take from the course?
The key learning that I was able to take away from this course was that the Residential child care profession has its own community – one which is committed and invested in improving outcomes and creating opportunities for all children and young people.  There is a distinct lack of empirical research within the field.  This is something that is urgently required in order to support the further development of a service which can provide positive experiences and happy lifestyles for our children and young people.  My time on the course has changed my thinking about how important it is for those in direct practice to contribute to research – this isn’t a job for the ‘academics’.  It is a job for every single person working within residential child care.  We have a real opportunity to learn from our every interaction and ultimately deliver the best care & love in the world for our children and young people.

What advice would you give to someone considering studying your course?
Stop considering it and do it!  It is a game changer if you are interested in residential child care.  It will enhance your vision and give you a much more holistic view not just to your role but the role of your colleagues, managers, leaders and most importantly your young people.

Where are you working now?
I am the Service Manager for Nether Johnstone House.  An independent residential children’s house on the outskirts of Glasgow.  Our vision and values is centred around a social pedagogical approach to care & we work hard to ensure all our children and young people are active participants in their care and support.

What is the best part of your job?
Getting to see people grow and develop.  Over the years this has become about much wider than my initial thoughts.  In the beginning I attributed my role just to the children & young people with whom I worked directly.  Over time I am able to see the bigger picture and now recognise the growth in all of those around the young person.  I love seeing our young people achieve their goals or hit a milestone.  Something they didn’t think was possible before, but I also very much love seeing my team grow and develop.  I love the moment when the penny drops for a carer and they start to think differently, more broadly & with greater consideration and depth.  Hearing how they process this and how they recognise a much wider scope of opportunity opening up for them to provide support is exhilarating. 

Additionally, seeing the growth in individual family members, the development of more positive and solid relationships within the family unit and with those who are supporting them is priceless.

What has been the most memorable moment of your career, so far?
I think it is virtually impossible to narrow it down to one memorable moment.  Every young person whom I have worked with has added something to my experience and the overwhelming number of times when I have experienced feelings of immense pride for them is too many to count. I guess if I was to generalise, I would say that when a young person has moved on to their own house or another home and then out of the blue, they contact you for advice, or call to tell you something, phone for a blether, pop in cause they were passing by, need your help or support, want to reminisce about the times they shared with you or they want to tell you that something you said or did has helped them.  These very occasions, are by far the most memorable for me.

What are your ambitions for the future?
I want to continue developing residential child care as a positive choice for children and young people in Scotland.  I want to create opportunities and experiences for all those who come through our doors to have the best experiences of being loved and cared for.  I am committed to enhancing the skills and abilities of those who choose this as their career and I want to help them understand that this is very different to any other job you could ever have.  I am always looking for new ways to enhance my experience and learning and want to build upon the skills and abilities I have developed over the past 15 years.  I believe that with the launch of The Independent Care Review earlier this year, there is a really positive and exciting journey ahead for the care of children and young people in Scotland.  I have made my pledge & I fully intend to keep the promise. Residential child care isn’t for everyone, but if it is for you, then you are going to have the best time!

Any final points or words of wisdom?
Relationships impact our lives on so many different levels.  Every day they influence our decisions, create opportunities, impact our emotions and support us through life.  Young people living in residential child care experience a variety of relationships that are often inconsistent, making it difficult for them to develop a secure base from which to build positive attachments.  As a residential child care practitioner you can help to shape those fundamental developmental relationships for our children and young people.  You get to create environments in which they can explore themselves, their stories, their relationships and question their understanding and development.  You can use your very being to embrace the relationships and create key opportunities for exploration.  Residential child care offers an opportunity for practitioners to get alongside children/young people on every level.  Make sure you make the most of these situations.  Be creative & aspirational in your approach.  Look for moments and then seize them; “don’t wait for the perfect moment, take the moment & make it perfect”.  Everyone will reap the benefits.