Children’s worker rises to the top with national award

A children’s home manager who helps young people overcome a difficult start in life has become the toast of the care industry by winning a national award.

Leanne Bennett has scooped a coveted gold award in the Wales Care Awards 2016, run by Care Forum Wales, which acknowledge the hard work and exceptional performances of those in the care sector.

The 30-year-old, from Wrexham, who has been the registered manager of a specialist therapeutic children’s home in Ruthin, run by Branas Isaf, since January 2015, won the Peter Clarke Award for Promoting Excellence in Services for Children and Young People.

Leanne was presented with her trophy at a glittering ceremony at City Hall in Cardiff.

“It was an amazing evening and I’m still very much overwhelmed, even now,” said the former Bryn Offa High School pupil, who wanted to become a primary school teacher until taking on a work placement at a children’s home during her degree studies.

“We were all quite nervous and I was quite shocked to win. It all went so quickly and I felt like I blinked and the night was gone.

“I have so much pride over the whole experience. I’m proud to be working in the sector, hearing about the other good work people have done.

“To have people being recognised for the work they do is lovely. I’m constantly looking at what we can do next and winning an award gives you a boost to carry on doing what you’re doing with a bit more of a spring in your step.

“It encourages other staff too and inspires people to work towards something.”

Leanne was studying for a degree in Early Childhood Studies at Glyndwr University in Wrexham in 2008 when she secured a work placement at a children’s home in Shrewsbury.

She quickly found that helping to transform the lives of young people who’d had a difficult start in life was a path she wanted to take.

“I live and breathe my job,” she said.

“I like to think that if you can do a little bit to help them in the future then it’s all worth it.

“It can be very challenging and it’s a busy job. I’m constantly needed by the staff or our young people. Since I’ve come here I’ve implemented a lot of structure and have seen young people get GCSEs who have been out of school for four years. It’s amazing to see them succeed.

“It’s a very rewarding part of the job.”

Leanne currently runs a six-bed children’s home for boys aged 11 to 18 who come to the centre for a 16-week period where they are assessed before moving on to permanent residential accommodation.

“I’ve no regrets. I don’t think being a school teacher would’ve been a big enough challenge for me,” she admitted.

“I love working with young children but working with them from a care perspective rather than an educational perspective has been very rewarding and a lot more challenging.

“We have our successes where children have been able to build the skills they need to go out into the community which they haven’t been able to do before.”

Leanne and her team recently organised for one of the residents to attend the Fusion Festival in Birmingham which involved significant planning and risk assessment.

“It was about planning ahead and including the individual in the risk process which built his confidence,” she explained.

“He was absolutely ecstatic when he came back and had such a good time. It’s those small things that make it worth it.”

Leanne regards one of her biggest achievements as the publication of the recent Care Social Services Inspectorate Wales (CSSIW) report which praised the home’s leadership and management practices.

“When I first walked through the door there was a lot of work that needed to be done. After recruiting and putting in structures and long hours we managed to ensure it became fully occupied,” she said.

“It’s really rewarding seeing the staff team develop. I’m very passionate about my job but you’re only as good as your support team.”

Nominating Leanne for the award, Kate Jones, head of service for Branas Isaf, said she was always prepared to go the “extra mile”.

“Leanne has proven herself as an exceptional leader and there are a multitude of examples of how her dedication, enthusiasm, drive and commitment to achieve high standards of care practice and positive outcomes for service users and staff are implemented,” she added.

Mario Kreft MBE, the Chair of Care Forum Wales, said the standard of entries was extremely high.

He added: “There are only winners here tonight so it is only fitting that the finalists will receive a gold, silver or bronze Wales Care Award.

“I trust that they will continue to inspire those around them as role models and encourage others to aspire to even greater heights in the months and years to come.

“This awards ceremony is our opportunity to pay tribute and to celebrate the talent and commitment that is improving the quality of life for thousands and thousands of people throughout Wales.

“We take our hats off to them.”