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

Themes this local practice example relates to:

  • Schools and communities

Basic details

Organisation submitting example

Specialist Education Services: Avocet House

Local authority/local area:

Based in Norfolk


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 context and rationale

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.

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