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programme evaluation

Factors in success in residential programmes

Edward Donohue

If one accepts that the Tyn-y-Pwll project achieved a satisfactory measure of success, it may be worthwhile to attempt to identify some of the factors which contributed to this. There will not, indeed should not, be any attempt to claim that these factors were exclusive to Tyn-y-Pwll. It is the writer’s hope that most of what follows will be acceptable to, and easily identified by most residential workers. It is hoped that many of the same principles are already in practice in most establishments but, where this is not the case they may be sympathetically considered by authorities and senior staff.

a) The young people were welcome and the staff readily acknowledged that the centre existed for the youngsters. There was no rigid system which the youngsters were seen as upsetting, nor a long list of rules and regulations. The key word in this sense was flexibility, the programme could be adjusted from day to day and according to individual needs.

b) They were accepted; the staff were prepared to offer affection and care regardless of their previously attached labels. This did not mean that any kind of behaviour would suffice but rather that there was no rejection because of bad behaviour.

c) The staff attempted to be tolerant and non-judgemental. The first reaction to bad behaviour was not “what shall be the consequence” but “why has it occurred?”

d) Good communication was considered to be essential. The young people were always listened to and the staff always tried to say what they meant and mean what they said. They looked for nonverbal communication and tried to empathise, difficult though that was in some instances.

e) The young people were encouraged to give as well as receive. Acceptance, tolerance and good communication were always regarded as two-way processes. Similarly, affection was considered to be a mutual process although it was understood that the response would vary enormously according to the time and the individual.

f) The environment was stimulating, exciting and enjoyable. Books and creative material were always readily available and the youngsters were encouraged to attempt new activities.

g) The activities were interesting and challenging without being unreasonably demanding. They were varied and adjusted according to the abilities of the individual.

h) The staff were concerned with the whole person before, during and after their stay and encouraged the young people to see themselves in the same way.

i) The staff were conscious of the importance of reconciling the needs of the individual to the development of the total group.

j) A sound, if eclectic, framework or groupwork theory was understood and practiced by the whole staff group. The young people were helped to see the process as well as the content of each week, and were enabled to understand the effect of their behaviour upon other members and vice-versa more fully.

k) Tyn-y-Pwll related to the outside world. Visitors were welcomed and social workers and parents were considered to be a vital part of the whole process. The end of the course was considered from the start with the accent on the fact that this meant a new beginning elsewhere.

l) “Therapy” was not considered to be an unacceptable word but neither was it felt to imply complicated technique. The healing process was concerned with various forms of deprivation, emotional, physical and intellectual. It was observed to be taking different forms and different speeds according to the group and the individual.

m) Part of the therapy was allowing the young people both time and space. Time to develop or regress, to be hostile or affectionate; space to manoeuvre, adjust and grow.

n) The staff enjoyed their work and placed job satisfaction much higher than monetary rewards.

o) The management committee were supportive and constructive, thus there was no question of external authority being blamed for internal problems.

p) The need for a separate enabler was seen as extremely important, not only for the development of the group work elements, but for ongoing staff support.

q) The young people were encouraged to participate in decision making, express honest opinions and experiment with rolls. In this way they grew in self-confidence, self-discipline and self-value.

r) They were also encouraged to be more tolerant and understanding of their peers and staff, to develop respect for and assume responsibility for other people.

s) They were given opportunities to discuss and consider their home and school or work situations and in consequence, to accept a large measure of responsibility for their own actions and behaviour.

t) Both staff and young people were encouraged from the outset to believe that growth and change were possible.

u) The staff group developed genuine feelings of love and concern for each other and were able to widen this to include each group of young people. The warm and caring atmosphere thus created offered a discernible security to the young visitors.

These factors have not been listed in any order of importance nor could it be considered to be a comprehensive list. Little, if any, is new or original, but there is no doubt in the writer’s mind that the blending of these factors added to the quality and substance of the staff group, created an environment which enabled young people to thrive. If one remembers that there were no selection barriers, except severe physical or mental handicap, and that many of the youngsters were described as “very difficult” or “severely disturbed”, then the success rate was remarkable.

This feature from Donohue, E. (1985) Echoes in the hills. Surrey, UK: Social Care Association. pp. 105-107