Promising practice details


C4EO theme: Vulnerable (Looked After) Children

Quality saves children; quality saves money, Avocet House, Norfolk

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Vulnerable (Looked After) Children
  • Schools and Communities
  • General resources

Priorities this local practice example relates to:

    Basic details

    Organisation submitting example

    Specialist Education Services: Avocet House

    Local authority/local area:



    The context and rationale

    Background details to your example

    This example demonstrates how providing a 52 week high quality placement and applying an ‘invest to save; philosophy can support working with extremely complex and challenging, low incidence, high need, hard to place LAC children, who have experienced repeated failure. The perception that these most difficult young people and families cannot be ‘rescued’ is challenged.

    The passionate idea behind setting up the company was to innovate. Could we transfer our theory and philosophy to potentially the most difficult marketplace, dealing with the 52 week placement of these complex children who, to all intents and purposes, have reached the limits of provision. In many cases the professionals and families have become so at loggerheads that a full care order and placement outside the family, through to independence at 18, is felt to be the only option.

    There are many fine examples of pioneer workers with difficult children in the history books, (for example, Maurice Bridgeland’s 1971 seminal work, Pioneer Work with Maladjusted Children is one source). The work contains many great names of innovators and thinkers, (A.S.Neill, David Wills, Winnicott, Dockar-Drysdale, Balbernie, Bettleheim, Homer Lane, to name but a few). This reminds us that a historical perspective of pioneer working with disturbed and disturbing youngsters is as critical to our understanding as it is to our knowledge of the recent research in the neuroscience of the development and workings of the brain. History also shows the wisdom of earlier generations being re-affirmed by practitioners and scientists of the present one.

    Our view of practice was one of combining the very best qualities of highly individualised therapeutic care, health and educational approaches with a ‘no limits’ philosophy that puts the child at the centre of everything we do. Combining this synergy with a personalised learning culture (with learning defined in its widest sense) and a philosophy that imposes 'no limits' on our aspirations for our children and their potential for positive change and development is our main focus.

    In creating this holistic therapeutic milieu through the total care given to the young people by all the staff in the team, by creating a learning culture, by placing children at the centre of all we do and most importantly bringing the ‘no limits’ philosophy to life, we are revising the work of Dr Marjorie Franklin and David Wills and ‘Planned Environment Therapy’, and bringing it into the 21st century by adding our own specific perspective.

    If our sole aim is to promote positive outcomes and change for our young people and every experience at Avocet House is designed to help achieve this, then could we demonstrate this through a stability of placement, leaps in academic ‘learning’, a move to greater independence and the reunification of the family and child? Could we do this and save money for placing authorities despite working with the most extreme and challenging children?

    Avocet House opened in April 2005 and accommodates eight boys. It has dual registration as a residential special school and as a children's home. The age range for admission is normally between eight and fourteen years. Avocet House has been consistently judged by Ofsted to be ‘Outstanding’ on all criteria in both care and education since 2009.

    We refuse to set limits around effective care and education programmes for children. Avocet House is set up to focus on the needs of the individual and takes personalised learning to a new level. We believe that regardless of past experiences every child, given the right circumstances, has the resources to move forward positively to a preferred future.

    The purpose of Avocet House is to provide a safe, nurturing, caring, positive and protective homely environment that promotes personal growth, development and learning based on a Positive Psychology.

    • To create and maintain appropriate caring boundaries for each young person so that it helps them make the transition from dependence to autonomy.
    • To develop a Portfolio of Achievements and Needs which looks to preferred futures, enhances self esteem, develops strengths to maximise their personal potential, produces opportunities to succeed and moves the young person to an appropriate level of self-determination.
    • To provide the platform for future permanence for each young person. This may be in the form of a return to their own home and family, permanent alternative placement in foster care, adoption, long term residential care elsewhere or independent living.
    • To achieve the highest possible standard of educational achievement measured by:
    o a movement from disaffection to engagement in the learning process
    o improvements in behaviour conducive to learning
    o a growing enthusiasm for learning
    o specific and generalised achievements
    o tangible accredited outcomes
    o emerging gifts, talents and passions
    o national accreditation.
    • To make the curriculum fit the child, not the child fit the curriculum.


    The practice

    Further details about the practice

    The first and most important issue is the coming together of all of the components of practice, as it is the holistic impact of this coupled with the ‘no limits’ thinking that underpins success. In addition, a Total Quality Management (TQM) approach is taken. It is the combination of the psychological, social and educational influence into an holistic whole that is important. We are concerned with learning rather than teaching and it is concerned with all those things that a person needs to fulfil themselves – and this is different in each individual case. In other words complete personalisation. Avocet House also works systemically with every aspect of the child and family.(Ofsted Integrated Care Report 2012, p3)

    The physical premises and location (Ofsted School Report, 2012, p6)
    The immediate location, type and size of premises all have a bearing on how the child and family will respond. Everyone will have an experience of buying a house because it ‘feels right’. This is exactly how the home must be – warm and welcoming with enough space, grounds and the right location to start the therapeutic process.

    Recruitment (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p7 and p8)
    The most important part of the environment is the worker. The type of person should be someone who:
    • has feeling as well as intellect
    • is a person with integrity
    • shows empathy and care
    • shows respect for others
    • as a role model, enlarges and enriches others who associate with them
    • has firm (but not rigid) moral principles
    • is courteous and gentle in dealings with others
    • is a social person.

    All of the various parts of the recruitment process are part of the TQM approach: from the wording of the advertisement, the recruitment pack which is sent out, the interview process, format and scoring system, and the debrief following the interview on whether the applicant has been successful or not.

    Staff Induction and Development (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p9)
    This must be thorough and rigorous: our staff have a week of induction before joining a shift team. Their support mechanisms include professional development meetings and separate personal support meetings, every week in the first six months of probationary period and every month thereafter. Every adult has an annual professional development plan linked to the organisation’s development plan. There are formal structures for 360 degree reflection on each role.

    Adults are supported to deal with the impact of the behaviours on themselves to lessen the chance of their judgement being clouded or their attitude warped.

    Adults are not left alone to identify or plan responses to the child’s needs but are part of a team who support identification, interpretation and planning. This team includes consultants (in psychology, therapy, psychiatry).

    Admissions process
    No child comes to Avocet House unless they choose to and we have never had a child refuse. This is because of the fact that we always put the child in the driving seat from the very first contact we have with them and their families. This may appear at face value to be very risky and indeed cynics may say that the child has no choice. However they do have a choice. No-one forces them to choose Avocet House.

    Our process for admissions is a considered and detailed one where all adults are engaged, including family members significant to the process, irrespective of whatever the reputation they have of cooperation or opposition.

    This results in a positive choice, which signals something to the child and family at the outset – which only strengthens during their time with us.

    Relationships (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p3, p5 and p6) (Ofsted School Report, 2012, p3)
    The relationships are between person and person first and client and worker second. The home’s culture is one of a domestic, family feel. We take steps to eliminate institutional language. Our culture is one of unconditional positive regard – a culture that believes in the child and the child’s ability to learn and change.

    The child is responded to in a warm and welcoming way at all times even when negative transference is taking place (i.e. the child transfers to the adult feelings he has or had for one or other of his parents, or for other people in his life – this can be both positive and negative).

    We accept no ‘us and them’ within Avocet House, for example, everyone is addressed by their first name irrespective of any hierarchy. There is a familial feel to relationships.

    Positive transference is particularly effective in building relationships and helping the child progress. The Avocet House community demands mature and rational behaviour of its members and brings about a natural pressure to that end

    Where a young person seeks maternal or paternal care or support (for example, play, stories at bedtime, curled up beside an adult watching TV) it is given unconditionally whatever their age. David Wills (innovator and thinker) uses the following quote from the “Intimate Journal of George Sands” in his paper “Planned Environment Therapy – What is it?” in Studies in Environment Therapy Voil 2 (1973) to illustrate the thinking:

    Make children feel that they are loved, but make them understand also that the love of parents is very different from that of friends. Convince them that parental affection will always be there waiting for them, whatever their faults, because the tender affection of parents withstands every test. But make them recognise that the affection of friends is the result of esteem, confidence and choice. Children must learn that friendship is based on merit and that it is won or lost according as they are strong or weak, devoted to others or egotistically centred on self.

    The adult provides the former, the community the latter.

    Positive Psychology (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p3)
    We hold a belief that all living things have a tendency towards wholeness, to self-correct, an inbuilt therapeutic drive and we try to remove the impediments to the natural tendency to self-heal. By strengthening the ‘whole’ elements facilitates a natural therapeutic tendency that supports learning.

    The method is to foster those parts of the personality that are whole, to strengthen the psyche to cope with/manage its own conflicts. The positive psychology links to and supports the ‘no limits’ philosophy. The ‘no limits’ thinking is so well embedded that the young people themselves refer to it. The environment releases the child to be himself - his real self – thus revealing issues.

    Learning Culture (Ofsted School Report, 2012, p3, p4 and p5)
    The learning culture created is concerned with the fullest possible creative expression, arts, crafts, skills, and techniques. It is about making sure that there is the opportunity to discover talent and then practice it, whether that is on the tennis court, creating rap music, learning to sculpt, sitting GCSEs a year early, becoming a match winning angler, walking across Africa, sailing the North Sea, writing poetry – all of which has happened at Avocet House and the list is endless.

    The approach to learning starts with interests and enthusiasms and puts the child at the centre. We structure learning across the whole 24 hour period, but the key is that the children do not see this to begin with. As far as they are concerned their days are full of rich and creative experiences.

    The Child’s Voice (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p3, and p6) (Ofsted School Report, 2012, p4)
    There are various ways in which the child’s voice is heard that convince them that they are truly listened to, taken seriously and can drive their own destiny either on an individual or community basis.

    PAN process
    Portfolio of Achievement and Need (PAN) refers to the process of overall planning that supports an individual’s learning and development at Avocet House. Care planning is embedded within this process.

    Bespoke, school day ‘curriculum learning’ is catered for in detail within the Learning Centre planning structures. However, at Avocet House we also believe that all parts of the waking day and all experiences are potential learning opportunities.

    The PAN process and planning structures are what we use to draw together social, health and academic learning development. Learning targets are not deficit based by concentrating solely on perceived ‘needs’. We actively seek to start with a child’s strengths, passions and talents and expand from there. Some young people are able to chair their own meetings as they develop.

    House meetings – community meetings chaired by the young people to discuss community issues.

    The overall aim is to create a kind of microcosm of ordinary society with its social and economic obligations, its social and economic pressures and its responsibilities to support oneself and the community

    The Learning Mentor is a member of the learning centre team who negotiates learning targets. The Personal Tutor is a member of the care team who is the advocate for the child and key worker

    Systemic Family Therapy (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p5)
    Family therapy work is an important keystone to unlocking the family and is illustrated in the case studies in section 3.

    Restorative Practice (Ofsted Integrated Care Report, 2012, p8)
    At Avocet House we are committed to building a community ethos and spirit, one where there is an understanding that behaviours, both positive and negative, have a consequential impact upon the community. All misbehaviour is therefore viewed as a learning opportunity, particularly in respect of building understanding and empathy. A restorative approach is essential in building this understanding and empathy for others and achieving sustained, positive change in behaviour.

    Restorative principles are:
    • A process where perpetrators face and listen to the impact on, and feelings of, others who have been affected directly by their behaviour and indirectly in the wake of their behaviour.
    • That due reference is given to its impact on the community.
    • As part of the process alternative choices and actions are reflected upon or reflected back, and explored.
    • That acts of reparation relate as far as possible to atonement to the individuals affected or are for the benefit of the community.

    There has been a commitment and investment to embedding restorative approaches within Avocet House practice, which has involved training for the whole community of adults and young people.

    Local Partnerships
    Working with other partners takes many forms as show below.

    Work experience
    Social workers from placing authority
    Post-16 Further Education
    Careers guidance
    Mainstream schools.


    Evidence and evaluation - making a difference to children, young people and families

    Evidencing your practice has made a difference to children, young people and families

    Our achievements are best illustrated by two case studies. Philip and George (not real names) are from the same placing authority. On admission both had what could easily have been perceived as ‘impossible’ family situations. The high quality holistic and systemic approach, underpinned by the ‘no limits’ thinking mindset, has not only translated into a heart warming tale of human success and achievement, but on just these two children alone, equates to a projected financial saving of £621,746 to that placing authority.

    Case Study 1
    Philip had multiple failed foster placements before coming to Avocet House. He was out of education having been effectively excluded from school. He also hadn’t seen his mother for over six years. What was clear from the admission process was that Philip would have been placed at Avocet House without the involvement of his mother. We drove that aspect of the process and insisted, despite reservations on the part of the social worker, that we engaged with the mother prior to Philip’s admission. In doing this we found ‘mum’ to be supportive of Avocet House, the proposed placement and supportive of a gradual reunification and contact with Philip. This has been an underpinning and key strand in our work with Philip.

    Therapeutic Journey
    Philip has engaged in therapy sessions and these progressed to joint work alongside his mother and key staff at Avocet House, in particular exploring life story work. This has taken many forms from visits to previous schools and foster settings as well as a look back in paper work around circumstances around the death of his father.

    Learning Journey
    Philip has engaged in a whole range of diverse learning opportunities across the 24 hour curriculum. He has sat a range of GCSEs a year ahead of schedule and has already gained a range of accreditation in various areas.

    Qualifications achieved
    • Food Life Skills Certificate
    • Asdan Bronze Award
    • Maths Entry L3
    • CLAIT – E-document production
    • Adult Literacy L2
    • GCSE Maths – D
    • GCSE English – E
    • GCSE Science - E
    • BTEC Home Cooking L2

    Qualifications currently being studied
    • GCSE Psychology
    • Functional Skills Maths L2
    • Functional Skills English L2
    • Arts Award Bronze
    • BTEC Vocational Skills L1
    • BTEC Money and Finance L2
    • Maths Proficiency L1

    More recently he was one of six people, nationally, to be selected for ‘The Hottest Classroom on Earth’, a national competition in which he travelled to Africa and walked the Great Rift Valley lead by Massai warriors. The nine day expedition took place in June 2012 and was the subject of a BBC documentary, ‘The Hottest Classroom On Earth’. Philip’s original ‘Hottest Classroom’ application letter (reproduced below) is a good illustrative summary in his own words of many of his achievements.

    My name is Philip and I am 15 years old. I have been in care since the age of two. Since then I have lived in 34 different foster placements, before moving to Avocet House 2 years ago. I got to the stage where I felt there was no point unpacking my belongings any more. It’s been hard adjusting to living in a care home with other boys who have difficulties, which I sometimes find hard to deal with as I’m used to living in a family environment. I have had to learn to be more tolerant of others whilst dealing with my own personal issues through life story work.

    I am a person that likes challenges and setting myself goals that I strive to reach and complete. I have proven from past experiences and opportunities that I always stick at things and don’t give up easily. I am always open to trying new things, I can be a strong leader but I also listen to others opinions and like to support peers. I am more than capable of looking after myself, doing my own laundry and I have excellent cooking skills. I am also very organised and like to take personal responsibility for my own possessions and equipment, I demonstrated this on our Hadrian’s Wall expedition. For this expedition I had to prepare and pack my own equipment and carry it all at times throughout the 7 day walk, this included camping and cooking equipment. This was a great experience because I love to be outside and never found myself getting bored. I enjoyed the challenge of the endurance walk, knowing I had to complete so many miles each day before setting up camp. I have been complimented by many adults at Avocet House as being polite, well mannered and with a friendly manner. I hope I am a good ambassador for Avocet House.

    I consider myself to be very lucky with the opportunities I’ve been given at Avocet House. I have been an eager and willing participant in several residential ventures including the Hadrian’s Wall walk which was totally self sufficient, a Wye valley canoe expedition with car support and a weekend bush craft fair. These type of activities are so important to me that I nominated myself to be a member on our OAA committee, which I have now been part of for the last year. I am happiest when I am doing something or have something to work towards, I totally threw myself into training for the Whole Hog Run, working up to eight mile runs 4-5 times a week. Fitness is really important to me, both gym and endurance fitness, I work hard to improve my level of fitness all the time. I consider myself to be an all round good sportsman and enjoy coaching others, especially in my area of expertise, which is cricket. I would love the opportunity to share some of my skills with new people from a different culture, I think they would love some of my ‘slight of hand’ magic tricks.

    I would really like to be part of the Hottest Classroom expedition because I think it would be a totally life changing experience. I believe having completed such a challenge I would come back a better person, mentally stronger, with more skills and a better understanding of different cultures. I think seeing how the Massai people live a more simple life with fewer possessions could change my views and values about what is really important in life and also make me appreciate what I have rather than what I don’t have. I have also been recently studying about tectonic plates in science and the Great Rift Valley would be a great place to see an example of these geological features.

    Lastly I think it would be a huge personal challenge for me to walk double the distance I have walked in this country and under much more challenging weather conditions.”

    Philip’s application illustrates and captures a great deal of the sophisticated blend of 24hr learning, care and therapy that Avocet sets out to achieve. It reflects a growing portfolio of achievement and success, which formed the basis for his selection to go to Africa. The expedition had a profound effect upon Philip, ‘cementing’ so much of the good work and progress as well having an impact in the very way Philip predicted in his application. Since returning he has matured in so many ways.

    Since returning from Africa he has completed a Tall ships sailing voyage across the North Sea to the continent, from which he gained a competent crewman certificate. He has met and sailed with Sarah Outen, the round the world sailor and explorer. His Curriculum Vitae combined with his manner and approach during a days work experience in the restaurant of the Automobile Association Club in London, alongside the executive chef, resulted in an offer of employment.

    Much of his studies are self-driven and although accredited work continues in core subjects such as Maths, English and ICT his personalised timetable reflects a diverse range of different learning experiences. He has been restoring a car, building his own Canadian Canoe, learning Manderin, studying BETECs as well as a day release at Colchester Institute.

    Such has been the progress that Philip has gradually been spending more time across weekends and holidays at home with his mum and brothers to the point where full reunification and a move to Colchester, where his mum is based, and attending a local college post-16, is now an option. Equally, Philip is balancing that against the roots and contacts he has in Norfolk and an aspiration to live independently in the local area. Such is his maturity, focus and progress through the rigorous internally accredited Avocet Life skills scheme that living independently with outreach support before he is 18 years of age is a possibility. We are working closely with the placing authority in looking at this brave and innovative possibility. He has successfully completed the life skills award scheme which has bronze, silver and gold awards across the following five areas:
    • Finance
    • Home Management
    • Social Skills
    • Travel
    • Self Care, Health and Food.

    These will form and underpin an evidence base for a risk assessment in respect of independent living.

    Case Study 2

    George joined us from a children’s home setting in Kent. He had been a subject of a care order following disclosures of sexual abuse by his older brother. At the time he was living with his father and, evident in the paperwork, were serious concerns around the extended maternal family close to the mother and concerns around the mother’s ability to keep him safe.

    It was also not a clear picture of where his older brother’s abusive behaviour had come from. Effectively, this meant that although he was the primary victim, there was no perceived place of safety for George in respect of the family. The move brought George closer to home and with it the opportunity to explore how best he could be supported with an almost impossible situation.

    George had many positive qualities and indeed viewed the move as a positive one but irrespective of this he was justifiably a very angry young man about his overall situation. Indeed over the course of his placement, George has been responsible for more staff injuries than all the boys admitted to Avocet House put together.

    Learning Journey
    Qualifications achieved
    • St Johns Ambulance Young First Aider – Parts 1,2,3
    • Asdan Bronze Award
    • Food Life Skills Certificate
    • Asdan Silver Challenge Award
    • BTEC Home Cooking L1

    Qualifications currently being studied
    • ASDAN PSHE short course
    • Arts Award Bronze
    • BTEC Vocational studies L1
    • BTEC Money and Finance L2
    • ALAN L1/2
    • Functional Skills EL3
    • Edexcel Entry L3 Science

    In an educational setting he was extremely distractible, hyperactive and constantly on his own agenda. He could not cope in group situations and conflicts with adults and children were frequent. Nevertheless his attendance at the learning centre was positive from the outset and the personalised curriculum built around him and his interests began to engage him.

    George was fascinated with weapons and war. Indeed this was reflected in many aspects of his life. His toys were soldiers, tanks and ‘bionicles’. The care team’s early experiences of informal play was in getting down to floor level playing with George who always had to win and destroy the other side. His early bespoke play therapy sessions took a similar track with soldiers and armies within the sand pit.

    In the learning centre this interest or preoccupation was not resisted it was embraced. His fascination with weapons was used as a vehicle for learning about history, technology, mechanics and culture. George made working models of Roman basilicas, alongside which he had to learning about Roman civilization and why they were capable of advanced technology. His studies have continued over the course of his time with us and George now has a very sophisticated understanding of history, peoples, culture and conflict.

    The above is just one illustrative strand of many, many strands that have made up his educational journey. One summary highlight is that his reading age has leapt from 7 years to 13 years 3 months in the space of three years.

    George no longer presents any behavioural issues within the context of Avocet House and indeed presents as a young man who loves learning for learning sake.

    Therapeutic Journey
    After an initial settling in period George started play therapy sessions with our consultant child and adolescent therapist. His early responses referred to above progressed and the work extended out to our consultant working alongside, key Avocet House staff, George and his mother, concentrating on building their mother/son relationship. Initially his mother presented as lacking confidence and to a degree was ineffectual in the face of demanding behaviour from George.

    George viewed the relationship in terms of materially driven short-term gains i.e. ‘what can I get out of the visit/contact’.

    The work continued with his mother coming into Avocet House on a weekly basis and things have progressed so far that George and his mother enjoy a healthy relationship of mutual respect and support, without either of them putting unfair demands upon each other. Whereas the mother was coming in on a weekly basis to engage in the therapy work, it progressed to fortnightly to study alongside George for a BETEC Diploma in Home Cooking taught and led by the Avocet House Learning Centre staff. At Christmas 2011, the Coach House was set aside for George and his mother, with the mother sleeping overnight so that they could enjoy a Christmas morning together waking up in the same building. Such is the confidence in their relationship and the maturity of George that this progressed to regular weekend and holidays at home. This was the start of a progressive movement towards George ultimately living with mother at home post-16 and attending college studying a catering and hospitality course. Effectively the care plan has now changed.

    Journey to Independence
    George no longer loses his temper and hurts people. He goes out independently into the community and stays clear of conflict. He has established friends in the local village and the parents of the local children speak highly of him. He is extremely polite and courteous and can hold his own in a variety of social settings. He travels to Norwich on a weekly basis to attend roller skating and has attended various youth groups. He has taken the lead in supporting younger Avocet House boys in their exploration of going out independently, by mentoring and accompanying them. He was the first young person to Chair The Youth Coaching Forum held at City Academy on a monthly basis. In July 2012, he was awarded the silver award within the Engage National Awards in the category of ‘Outstanding Personal Progress’. He has completed work experience placements in Tesco, the Co-op and at De Vere Hotels, Dunston Hall, all of which have given him outstanding reports.

    Transition Performance Statistics For All Avocet House Children
    Average Length of stay as of February 2013: 3.73 yrs

    Planned move to successful Transition: 9 out of 10 (90%)
    Family reunification as part of transition plan / outcome: 4 out of 10 (40%)
    Foster Care as part of transition plan / outcome: 1 out of 10 (10%)
    Independent Living as part of transition plan / outcome: 1 out of 10 (10%)
    Supported Lodgings as part of transition plan / outcome: 3 out of 10 (30%)
    Transition achieved at 16+ and not 18yrs: 5 out of 10 (50%)

    As virtually all the admissions were placed because it was felt that they would need a stability of placement through to 18 years, the achievement of early transition equates to total savings to placement authorities as much as £2.2 million pounds within the perceived time of placement. This is irrespective of the further savings that are inevitably made through a social return on investment calculation. The savings to society through the development of the most troubled, difficult and challenging looked after children into fine, upstanding, young gentlemen are huge.

    Educational Tracking and Cost Savings containing expanded details on educational performance of all leavers and the savings for placing authorities is available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    As Avocet House only opened in 2005, these case studies can only relate to a relatively small group of children. Nevertheless, there are clear consistent strands appearing that are based on fact and are unequivocally positive in relation to the level of need and complexity of the young people on admission. These are not just Looked After Children in a general sense but the most complex and difficult within the care of the local authority at a given time.
    • All students are showing huge gains in terms of attendance and engagement in education.
    • They are almost universally leaving with an impressive and varied range of accreditation, particularly when compared with their starting points.
    • There is a consistent pattern of reading age gain that outstrips chronological time spent at Avocet.
    • Almost immediately after admission there is much improved family contact in terms of quality of experience. This has subsequently been built upon over the course of their time at Avocet House.
    • There is a huge evidence base of extensive work with families that has contributed to the fact that 40% of children leaving Avocet House have left by means of family reunification. In two further projected cases the care plan has changed to target this as realistically possibility for September 2013.
    • All students are making exceptional progress in terms of their behaviour, personal development, social development and independence skills which is not only standing them in good stead but is also a contributory factor in making family reunification a realistic possibility.
    • There is credible evidence that the above is contriving to bring savings at the very least in excess of £2.2 million pounds to the local authorities. The majority of these savings will be derived by the reunification of six boys across a three year period.
    • Avocet House, despite being ‘Outstanding’ in all areas of Ofsted criteria, is continuing to develop and grow in strength. There is a strong cultural ethos driven by the whole community. There is an emerging picture within Avocet House that as the years progress the outcomes for later admissions on the relative timeline are much stronger. In short, the potential savings should get better over time.
    • There is an almost universal picture of stability of placement, with the exception of just one case, where all children have moved to transition in a planned and supported way. Out of those, none have gone to prison or are homeless. If this pattern continues for those individuals then the long term savings for society are extremely significant considering national statistics.



    Sustaining and replicating your practice

    Helping others to replicate your practice

    Can Avocet House practice and philosophy be replicated?
    In October 2012, we opened Turnstone House coincidentally only a few miles away. The closeness wasn’t intended, it was just serendipity, but it has proved highly beneficial. It was similar but on a slightly larger physical scale, with a seven acre plot and a purpose built eco-friendly Learning Centre. It was visited by Ofsted, for its first inspection, in December 2012 and graded as ‘Good’.

    This second establishment runs on the same philosophy as Avocet House. Whereas Avocet House was for boys only, Turnstone House is for boys and girls. There is already a cross fertilisation between Avocet House and Turnstone House both at child and adult level, made more possible by their proximity. Structures and systems have been imported from the outset and great care is being taken to build the same philosophy and practice with a brand new team. Two adults from Avocet House were promoted to posts at Turnstone House.

    Both adults and children from Avocet House were involved in the induction of the Turnstone House team. The children took part in a question and answer session about what they felt about Avocet House’s approach and how it had helped them, and also what qualities they looked for in the adults.

    What is key to success?
    • Leadership (Ofsted Integral Care Report, 2012, p9)
    • Vision
    • Experience
    • Ethos and culture
    • Continuous improvement (TQM)
    • Passion about the work
    • Structure
    • True personalisation
    • The right people.

    The two Ofsted inspection reports quoted in this example can be found at or available from the C4EO team at the NFER

    Core leadership behaviours
    The following eight core behaviours have been identified as part of successful elements of leadership (see National College for Leadership of Schools and Children’s Services/C4EO (2011). Resourceful leadership: how directors of children’s services improve outcomes for children. Full report. Nottingham: NCSL. The behaviours that apply to this example have been emboldened.

    i. openness to possibilities
    The ‘no limits’ philosophy illustrates this perfectly.

    ii. the ability to collaborate
    Collaboration internally and with a second team in Turnstone House as well as with external partners.

    iii. demonstrating a belief in team and people
    Positive psychology, recruitment process, ‘no limits’ philosophy, belief in the reunification of child and family or move to independence.

    iv. personal resilience and tenacity
    Business resilience, tenacity to achieve the vision even in a time of retrenchment and withdrawal of understanding that residential child care practice at the right quality level works and can save money.

    v. the ability to create and sustain commitment across a system
    We have proved this over the eight years of running Avocet House. Adults and children articulate this.

    vi. focusing on results
    Always being clear about our goals about child outcomes.

    vii. the ability to simplify

    viii. the ability to learn continuously
    Avocet House set out to create a ‘learning culture’ at both adult and child level. We see the children as key components in moving adult learning

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