Six years of Amber Family – What we’ve learned – Carol Benbow

2nd November 2020

When Gill and I started working on the concept of Amber Family, she was on maternity leave from the Local Authority and I was working as a Construction Project Manager in the Midlands. Our geographical distance meant that nights were spent on the phone talking about policies, service users, EDT’s, Local Authority’s and what we’d consider suitable attire for our staff who we’d not even recruited yet….in fact, did we have a recruitment policy?! No!

We rented a large, residential property that had fortuitously become available in our local area and we set about dealing with planning permissions, building regulations, CCTV companies, plasterers, carpet fitters, furniture providers, IT providers, data and comms providers – we’d speak to anyone and everyone who could give us a helping hand to realise our dream of opening a residential family centre.

Amber Family was opened on 1st June 2014 and in that time, what a learning curve we’ve had. Having started off with 6 staff and one setting (Gill and I being two of those staff), we now have a workforce of 40, made up of the most brilliant full time and part time staff across three settings, all of which we now own, having handed back our “first” Amber House to the Landlord earlier this year.

At any one time we can accommodate up to 12 families, four in each house and placements last on average, about 13 weeks; we’ve just accepted our 202nd family into placement. We could grow bigger and accommodate more, however, our emphasis is on ensuring that parents get a focussed, honest and robust assessment in a supportive environment and Gill and I still have full control over the day to day operation of the company and our assessments; we wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, what have we learned?

  • Your staff are everything; Without them, we wouldn’t have a business, but you need to pick the right people. They’ve got to be “people people!”, have excellent listening skills and empathy, be the right mix of humorous, supportive, encouraging and honest – definitely honest!
  • Working with the Local Authorities is good; We love it when we get a new Local Authority to work with and we work hard for all our placing Authorities. On the whole, we like to think we’re good at supporting them as we appreciate the pressure that the Local Authority Social Workers are under and when we work in partnership, we produce better outcomes for our families. We’ve had a lot of repeat referrals from Social Workers we’ve worked with over the last few years and this makes us happy.
  • Trust your gut and go for it – Gill and I STILL spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone, seeking confirmation from each other that we are making the right decisions and sending out the correct information. It was a gut instinct almost 7 years ago that we should open Amber Family, and the rest as they say, is history.