Woman and child at kitchen table

Residential child care

Last week you were provided with an introduction to residential child care. This week we will explore this form of child care provision in slightly more detail.

Residential child care is a form of child care provision where vulnerable children live with a group of other children looked after by paid staff who work on a shift basis and live elsewhere. The staff work in the lifespace of the children and young people, using this as the setting for the work they attempt to engage in. When talking about how residential child care is a unique environment, Mark Smith quoted Frank Ainsworth when he stated that:

Practitioners take as the theatre for their work the actual living situations as shared with and experienced by the child.

Ian Milligan, who delivered a talk in week four, picked up on this theme and in the following extract from Functions of Residential Child Care in the A to Z of Residential Childcare he begins to explain how the lifespace and daily life events can be used in a purposeful and potentially therapeutic manner with vulnerable children and young people living in a residential care setting:

Good residential work recognises that the ‘rhythms and routines’ of a home can in themselves provide a secure base for the children who live there, just as regular routines do in a nuclear or re-constituted family. It is in this context that many researchers have recognised the importance of the purposeful use of daily activities. Routines for getting up in the morning or settling at night, meal-time patterns, washing dishes, shopping, watching TV or kicking a ball about provide the context within which purposeful work can be done. All these ordinary activities of daily living offer the sensitive and attuned residential worker the possibility of building a relationship through two-way communication with children. The provision of nurturing and boundary-setting care allows the children and young people to have an experience similar to ordinary family life.

Children’s on-going daily experience of being cared for and cared about can also provide them with a foundation on which they can begin to talk about their deeper concerns or worries with a residential worker they have come to like and trust. It is this possibility that can make residential care ‘therapeutic’ and is sometimes called ‘counselling on the hoof’. Although it does not require professional training in counselling, it does require understanding of the basics of being a good, active listener, and the ability to reflect, non-judgementally, on what is happening. Many experienced residential workers will recall occasions when they have been side-by-side with a young person, typically when washing dishes, or perhaps when driving in a car, when the young person has surprised them by choosing to speak about a sensitive subject. There is no doubt that this has happened because the young person has been able to choose the time and place and when they do not have to have face-to-face eye contact.

The sources listed in the ‘see also’ section below were used when creating this week’s materials - you can consult them for more information on the topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Vulnerable Children

University of Strathclyde