Karen Moorcroft, Children’s Services Manager, National Programmes and Prisons cluster working for Action for Children.

Your career prior to taking the Childhood Studies degree:

My first job after leaving school/college was in retail, a bit of a stop-gap but within a year I applied for and got a full time post in banking. It was only when I had my first child 7 years later I started a career working with children. This was initially as a parent helper in a pre-school but then I went onto a part time paid post during which time I also completed a level 3 diploma in childcare and education.

It was during the level 3 qualification that I was introduced to the idea of taking a degree (which on the face of it felt unachievable, I was a single parent with two young children, working 30hrs a week and in my mid 30’s, university was for young people with time on their hands!) however my level 3 tutor didn’t let up and so I applied for the BA (Hons) Childhood Studies as a part time mature student. While on the degree I started some volunteer work at Risley Prison as a play worker with children visiting the prison at weekends and went on to later secure a part time paid position working as a lead play worker in several male prisons over the North West.

I graduated in July 2006.

First steps post-degree:

By graduation I was looking to get out of jail so to speak as the pull of a nice bright children centre or school, further training opportunities and working within statutory frameworks such as EYFS was a big one but I saw a post advertised by Action for Children in HMP Styal for a ‘nursery nurse’ working on the Mother & Baby Unit. Positions in the female estate don’t often arise and as there are only 5 prison MBU’s nationally even rarer are MBU opportunities. I applied and secured this position. I also started (and later completed) the EYP at Manchester Met.

Your route to the role and career path:

Since 2006 to date

Nursery Nurse HMP Styal

Early Years Professional

Nursery Manager HMP Styal

Mother & Baby Unit Manager HMP Styal

Children’s Services Manager – Wakefield Cluster – Wakefield Children’s centres (3 centres), Wakefield Targeted Youth Service (3 Hubs) HMP Styal MBU, HMP New Hall.

Current role – job title and organisation

Children’s Services Manager, National Programmes and Prisons cluster working for Action for Children. I have overall responsibility for a portfolio of services across the UK.

A typical day:

I have overall responsibility for 9 services, (2 prison Mother and Baby Unitss and 7 National Programmes.) A National programme is a service or intervention that is delivered by a team of staff across all 630 Action for Children services nationally. An example of this an oral health programme that involves vulnerable children and carers attending a series of oral health workshops in their local service, or delivery of an accredited employability programme to vulnerable or NEET young people and parents in our services. I directly line manage 8 staff and have responsibility (HR, performance, Health & safety etc.) for 42 staff, manage an overall budget of around £1,420,000.

There is no typical day, however I recorded and reflected on my day yesterday to give an idea.

7.30am – I call the MBU, a courtesy call to check all is settled. We have some challenging mothers on there at the moment. The babies are well and going out with staff to the park today but I sense a tension in the staff members voice around an issue with one of the mothers. I offer some support/guidance and make a mental note to call back later.

8.05am – I check through emails for anything critical then set off for the first of today’s meetings – reflective supervision with one of the MBU team leaders.

9.30 – after getting stuck in traffic, I’m now running half hr late. We work through case file supervision for each mother and baby on the unit and ensure there is a written plan in place and any safeguarding issues are managed appropriately. We reflect on the action taken recently to separate a mother and baby following significant concerns and the impact this has had for the team and other mothers. One mum is due for release so we discuss the agenda for the multi-disciplinary discharge meeting. The service contractual performance targets are reviewed and it’s great to see the team are over performing on all of these.

12.30 pm – I meet with my commercial finance officer and we review the budgets and spends for all 9 contracts. There are some concerns with one contract, we are underperforming on delivery and this is a payment by results contract. Due to the level of children centre restructures and trend to take back under LA control our target audiences are decreasing directly impacting on our ability to deliver. I need to think of a plan B!

1.30 pm – I respond to a few missed calls, ‘swapping hats’ between services in an instant is a challenge!

2.45 pm – I grab a coffee and a sandwich to eat as I start to work through emails. A staff member in one of my teams has had some personal issues and has given her notice. She is an excellent practitioner and I feel this could be a panic decision so I ask her line manager to talk to her about a flexible working request or temporary reduction in working hours as an alternative to ending her employment all together.

4.00 pm – I make a return call to the MBU to check in with the staff from this morning. She seems brighter and the day has gone as well as it could. A new baby is due any time (mum is in labour at the hospital) and we share the anticipation and excitement of a new birth. Regardless of the circumstances every baby should have their birth celebrated and while being born to a mother who is in prison is not the best start the opportunities for this particular case to end well for baby and mother looks positive.

4.45 pm – I have a telephone conference meeting to check performance on 3 of the National programmes. These happen fortnightly with the corporate funder and our office in London. Al goes well but I wonder how I am going to fit in the list of tasks that have come from this.

5.30 pm – I head home but am ‘on call’ this week which means the phone stays on and I may have to respond to any safeguarding or critical issues in the MBU’s.

6.30 pm – I crack on with some more emails and check my diary for tomorrow’s commitments. Later this evening around 10pm I get a call to say baby has arrived, a little girl. Mum and baby are both well and will be discharged back to the MBU tomorrow afternoon. I make a point to set a time aside to go and meet this little one and congratulate mum. The time I get in direct contact with service users is far less than I like but it’s crucial to me personally and professionally so sometimes other priorities have to be put down to make this happen.

Who do you work with?

Various corporate funders, National Offender Management –Women’s team, Prison staff and Governors, social care, health visitors, internal Action for Children colleagues and managers.

Best bits about the job

The babies, the children and the parents without a doubt, and seeing the difference that our work can make. The position I hold means I can make decisions about service delivery and so long as I keep that connection and spend that time to talk with service users and staff on the front line I enjoy the autonomy to develop and progress services in innovative ways.

Biggest challenges

Funding – getting it, managing it, time – there is never enough to feel like you are not short changing those who need your support and guidance.

How your degree has helped you with this role in terms of knowledge, skills or experience gained?

The degree was great for discussion and debate, it helped me develop skills to think beyond and to be child focussed. This takes practice in the real world but has been key. While I hated the ‘presentations’ during the degree, oh, how useful has that been when that is often a key part of my job now! Understanding the context of multi-disciplinary work has also been vital.

How do you see your career progressing?

My career has catapulted in the 10 years since graduation, while I love my current role I am not looking to progress but further but would like very much to expand my portfolio and manage my time better.

Advice for future Early Years graduates for making the most of their time in university and tips for their career their studies and in their careers:

Take every opportunity, volunteer or paid. It’s been key to me to work through/up in my career as I feel I am a much better manager as I have experienced and an understanding of their roles.