Book review of Leadership in Residential Child Care a relationship-based approach by Adrian Ward. Norwich 2014. Reviewed by Suzie Stephens.
This great book is packed full of readable, relevant, thoughtful and clearly presented ideas. Throughout all the chapters this manual leads you through the complex process of becoming a leader, understanding what leadership is and means, the boundary issues, doing leadership with a team, unconscious dynamics influencing the leader and everyone else, the use of power, authority and some factors influencing our choices and the person of the leader. Though based on Adrian’s years within children’s homes, these ideas and this book has much to offer anyone embarking on a new leadership role, or wanting a reminder of why it can feel a thankless and exhausting task, though the possibilities of achievements and reward are also emphasized.
It drew on a huge range of ideas, models and theories, using them to show why a way of understanding had merit, and making clear through the examples to illustrate the point and encourage thought. I was delighted to see the way these ideas were offered as sensible, logical and obvious if you were to take the role and make it your own and do the very best job you could. My own experiences echoed some of these examples, as learning on the job was very common in residential services. Using so many ideas could have become confusing and overly complex. This was not the case and I found the style and content encouraging and helpful in its non-judgmental approach. The referencing was fairly limited within the text but keen readers could follow up on particular ideas presented.
The tremendous skill in the writing made this a very readable book, while managing to show how the leadership role within a children’s home, is immensely complicated, challenging and demanding. The positive approach taken to the task of making sense of the complexity, emphasizing the core requirement of relationships, the need for reflection and help to see, were helped by allowing the reader insights from Adrian’s own experiences.
From understanding the impact of the wider system on the homes functioning, and the subsequent adjustments and readjustments in response to events, through the sharing and using of power authority and the inter-relationships the book flowed and built on the previous ideas. Including examples of the leader as a person and when things go wrong and why, was a useful reminder of the impact on others and the potential detrimental effect of ill-conceived actions.
The value placed on supervision, external support and consultancy ran throughout the book, and was reinforced many times, as it is a very valid point, and needs to be accepted as an essential component of the support provided to leaders and staff in children’s homes. I couldn’t have managed or successfully held leadership roles without it, and in working with children’s homes now, they and I, recognize the benefit of the external perspective.
For me an issue I found at odds with the whole tenant of the book, was the use of the term ‘residential unit’ to describe the children’s home. This rather dated term had a jarring effect, and for me, each time I saw it, I found that it undermined the emphasis on thoughtful, reflective and considered practice. This minor, though important point, was the only aspect I found challenging to my enjoyment of the book.
I would strongly recommend that this book is read and then dipped into, by leaders in children’s homes, external managers of children’s homes and leaders of teams in any setting. It is great that a book is specifically about leadership in children’s homes, using practice examples, but much referred to is pertinent to leaders in any setting. Having such an accessible book to aid deep learning and insight can only be a valuable asset in all settings where pressures, challenges and relationships play an integral part in the functioning of the team.
Suzie Stephens, Consultant and Trainer
I worked in children’s homes during the 1980’s and 1990’s becoming a Homes Manager after many years working with young people, before taking up workforce development roles and training as a consult for groups and individuals. I am a freelance consultant, coach, trainer, and Practice Educator and I am happy to discuss possibilities for external consultancy to aid reflection. Suzie.firstname.lastname@example.org 01359 220055.