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My Week: Tahir Khan of Perpetual Care

The childcare entrepreneur on a radical new approach - and running 300kms across the Namibian desert...

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

2009 has been an interesting year so far, with lots going on. My business has taken me to the US, where they’ve introduced a new therapeutic model called Nurtured Heart Approach. Established by Howard Glasser, it’s been used in Arizona for children with behavioural issues. Most of these kids were previously prescribed Ritalin to manage their behaviour, but the Nurtured Heart Approach works through positive reinforcement – rather than focusing on the negatives, children are rewarded throughout the day, and told how well they’re doing. It’s worked very successfully – 99% of the youngsters involved are no longer using medication – and we’re going to be pioneering this approach in the UK.

In the last year, we’ve invested a lot of time in working out how this model can best be applied to UK foster and residential care, given the legal differences between the two countries. The University of Central Lancashire looked at what we were doing and collaborated with us on a training course for local authority social workers, teachers, health workers and youth workers, so we’ve now delivering training that is accredited by an eminent and prestigious university. We’ve also been using the approach in our homes for over a year now, so we’ve developed a good working knowledge of it. And it’s been very successful: staff like it, the kids are happier, and it seems to be leading to better outcomes. So we’re starting to see our hard work come to fruition.

The focus this week has been on making sure that Nurtured Heart is being rolled out properly – training carers with the new approach, and negotiating consultancy and support packages to local authorities. As usual, we’ve also been working hard to find new foster carers, who are willing to look after children with behavioural issues. We’ve never had a problem with recruitment; our job is to make sure those that come through are the right kind of people. Applicants are thoroughly vetted and screened, and a high percentage are lost because we have very high standards and strict quality criteria. It’s a very challenging task, but a very rewarding one.

I’ve also spent the week recovering from my recent trip to Namibia, where I completed the ‘Racing The Planet’ desert charity run, a 300km race across the Namibian desert over seven days. Six months ago, the most I’d run was 2km. But I was inspired by my friend (and fellow entrepreneur) Ilyas Khan to take up the challenge – and I’m a lot fitter now! Previously the Namibian government hadn’t allowed people into the desert, so we were the first people to set foot in it. The landscape was breathtaking, although I was struggling so badly with blisters and fatigue that I probably didn’t take it in as much as I should have! I’m still not sure how I managed the fourth day, when we had to cover 100km in 24 hours – I mistakenly took two sleeping tablets beforehand thinking they were paracetamol, I felt I was was burning up in the 42C heat and so showered myself with my water bottle rather than drinking it, and had to keep stopping at the checkpoints so the medics could drill into my toenails to release the pressure. But after seven days I did finally make it across the finishing line – and now all the pain is forgotten!

I was running to raise money for Bolton Hospice and Alder Hey Children’s Hospital, as part of a year-long charity drive we’re doing at Perpetual. We’ve got all sorts of things going on during the year, and the aim is to raise £25,000 for local children’s charities – as well as giving ourselves an opportunity to work together outside of work. I’m actually starting to miss the running now; I haven’t been since I got back, but I’m planning to this weekend, as long as I get the all-clear from my podiatrist (another of my toenails disappeared in the shower this week!). In fact, Ilyas is planning to enter a team in another desert race, and wants me to join him – I’m seriously considering it!

I’m also very passionate about football. About six years ago, I met a very talented football coach called Charlie Jackson, who was working for Manchester United. So while I was doing my part-time MBA at Manchester Business School, I devised a business plan around Charlie’s coaching method – and when I presented it to him, he asked me to be part of the new business. So I helped him develop the brand and formalise how we’d deliver it through coaching schools. Matrix Soccer Academy has impressed both Ajax and Uefa; collaborated with us on a coaching DVD, which makes us the only coaching outfit in the world with this kind of endorsement. We’ve not managed to crack the FA yet – our emphasis is on technical skill development and producing players with fantastic touch and control, so it’s very different to the English method (which hasn’t progressed since 1966) – but we’ve had lots of interest from overseas, particularly the US. So we’ll continue working hard until one day we get that breakthrough, as I would love to play my part in winning the World Cup again!

Tahir Khan is the founder and CEO of Perpetual Care, an independent care provider to vulnerable children, young people and adults.

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