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Rethinking residential child care

Rethinking residential child care: Positive perspectives

Mark Smith
Copyright Date: 2009
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  • Book Info
    Rethinking residential child care
    Book Description:

    Residential child care is a crucial, though relatively neglected area of social work. And yet, revelations of abuse and questions of effectiveness have led to increasingly regulatory and procedural approaches to practice and heightened political and professional scrutiny. This book provides a broad and critical look at the ideas and policy developments that have shaped the direction of the sector. The book sets present-day policy and practice within historical, policy and organisational context. The author applies a critical gaze to attempts to improve practice through regulation and, fundamentally, challenges how residential child care is conceptualised. He argues that it needs to move beyond dominant discourses of protection, rights and outcomes to embrace those of care and upbringing. The importance of the personal relationship in helping children to grow and develop is highlighted. Other traditions of practice such as the European concept of social pedagogy are also explored to more accurately reflect the task of residential child care. The book will be of interest to practitioners in residential child care, social workers and students on social work and social care courses. It should be required reading for social work managers and will also be of interest to policy makers and students of social policy, education and childhood studies.

    eISBN: 978-1-84742-115-9
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. vi-viii)
    Leon C. Fulcher

    It is ironic that as the first decade of the 21st century is nearing its end, we are encouraged to rethink residential child care. The irony is not because of any dramatic changes in residential child care per se but because of the discourses that have attempted to rid child welfare services of residential child care. Some have argued that all residential or institutional services are oppressive and should no longer be included among the variety of service options available to families or to health, education and welfare professionals. Such arguments are commonly put forward by so-called scholars who have...

  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xiv)

    Back in 1981, having just graduated, I was whiling away my time working in a bar. I had an idea that I wanted to teach, but at that time history teachers were ten-a-penny. My mum was more concerned than I was that I should get a real job and spotted an ad in the local evening newspaper for a temporary residential social worker in what was then called a ‘List D’ school, the successors in Scotland to approved schools. So I applied, was offered a one-year contract and, as often happens in such cases, I stayed.

    I was one of...

  5. ONE The context of care
    (pp. 1-18)

    After many years as a neglected area of social welfare, residential child care has experienced a resurgence of interest in recent years, but often for the wrong reasons. The picture painted within the literature is generally bleak, depicting episodes of abuse, poor outcomes for children across a range of measures and low levels of qualifications and morale among staff.

    Since the election of the New Labour government in 1997 looked-after children have featured prominently in policy agendas. The extent to which the experiences of children in care have actually improved is questionable, however. Political initiatives betray a particular view of...

  6. TWO History
    (pp. 19-34)

    Fulcher and Ainsworth (1985) point out that: ‘The siting and physical design of a centre may represent in bricks and mortar the ideas of earlier generations of practice’ (1985, p 61). This chapter attempts to uncover the ideas of earlier generations of practice and to outline some of the twists and turns of policy, practice and ideology that have contributed to how residential child care is currently constituted. The history of how children were cared for over the centuries is not a story of uninterrupted social progress. Nor is it to be found only in the legal and policy documents...

  7. THREE Inquiries and their impact
    (pp. 35-52)

    From the early 1990s residential child care across much of the world has been engulfed in allegations of historical abuse and has faced an accompanying barrage of inquiries and publicity. Taking children into public care can only be justified on the grounds that to do so will provide them with a better experience than, or at least one as good as, they might otherwise have had. When they are taken into care elements of the duty of care ascribed to parents under common law transfer to the state (Fulcher, 2002). The realisation that children have been abused in public care...

  8. FOUR Trends and policy directions
    (pp. 53-68)

    If the early 1990s were dominated by responses to abuse the latter years of the decade witnessed a change of government from Conservative to New Labour in 1997. The new government quickly put children at the top of its policy agenda. For children in care this signalled a shift in emphasis away from a primary focus on protection and towards improving outcomes across a range of measures. In practice, however, anxiety over child protection ensures that it remains a dominant (and arguably the dominant) concern both in residential child care and for children and families services more generally. This chapter...

  9. FIVE Theorising residential child care
    (pp. 69-86)

    This chapter attempts an overview of some of the theories and approaches that have been applied to residential child care over the years and in different practice settings. Theory is defined as a body of ideas that help explain or illuminate our observations and experiences of the world around us (and which hopefully is useful in informing practice). Although I use the words ‘theory’ and ‘approaches’ fairly interchangeably I think about an approach as being a more specific application of a particular theoretical orientation.

    There can be a tendency for practitioners to claim that they are eclectic in their use...

  10. SIX The residential environment
    (pp. 87-102)

    Psychodynamic perspectives always recognised the inherent complexity of residential child care, a complexity that needed to be understood and appropriately negotiated. Managerial regimes have sought to reduce complex relational and psychodynamic processes to a series of procedures. This is fundamentally misconceived; attempts to manage relationships through regulation detract from the essence of care, a point I develop in the final chapter. They also assume that residential child care can be managed structurally and functionally, whereas it really requires to be understood organically. White (2008) offers a useful metaphor when he likens residential care to a compost heap. A compost heap...

  11. SEVEN Assessment, care planning and programming
    (pp. 103-118)

    This chapter considers the key stages in a child’s stay in residential care: assessment, care planning and programming. TheChildren who waitreport (Rowe and Lambert, 1973) identified a situation where children stayed in residential child care settings with little sense of purpose to the placement, other than that of providing everyday care. This report posed fundamental questions as to the suitability of residential child care to provide long-term care for children; this, axiomatically, being assumed to be located in natural or increasingly in substitute family settings. The publication ofChildren who waitcoincided with the professionalisation of social work...

  12. EIGHT Working at the boundaries: the personal–professional relationship
    (pp. 119-136)

    Previous chapters have looked at the residential environment. For anything worthwhile to happen there needs to be a catalyst. In this respect the relationship established between carers and cared for is fundamental; any programme is only as good as those who carry it through. To put it another way, there is a need to reframe the managerial zeitgeist of ‘what works’ to one of ‘who works’ (McNeill et al, 2005). Putting the personal at the heart of work with children introduces a range of boundary issues. This chapter addresses some of these, asking, essentially, how we can place the relationship...

  13. NINE Residential child care in a continuum of care
    (pp. 137-150)

    One of the legitimate criticisms levelled at residential child care historically is that it cut children off from the outside world. In many respects this merely reflected prevailing ideologies, particularly those deriving from a rescue philosophy, which decreed that children were best removed from their families and communities. Thus, homes were situated apart from centres of population and family contact was actively discouraged or restricted. Awareness of theories of attachment and of the central importance of families in children’s lives has brought about a reappraisal of the role of the family in work with children in care. Similarly, ideas of...

  14. TEN Other traditions of practice
    (pp. 151-164)

    The UK is unusual in locating residential child care professionally within social work. In most European countries social pedagogy (the terminology and exact nature of the task changing according to national contexts but the overall principles being similar) is the discipline underpinning work with children and youth. This chapter considers what social pedagogy might offer to ways of thinking about residential child care in the UK. It also looks at other traditions of practice, particularly the North American model of child and youth care.

    The word ‘pedagogy’ derives from the Greekpaismeaning child andageinto lead or to...

  15. ELEVEN Conclusion: rethinking residential child care
    (pp. 165-176)

    This book has painted an ambivalent picture of residential child care. On the one hand it is hard to argue with Cameron’s portrayal of the sector as one ‘emptied of its potential, a dried up expression for how to manage an underclass of disadvantage’ (2003, p 93). Evoking this image is not to say that residential child care is universally bad. There are many pockets of good practice and even in the worst situations there are individual carers who strive on a day-to-day basis to do their best by those they work with. The problem lies less with the individuals...

  16. References
    (pp. 177-198)
  17. Index
    (pp. 199-210)