THE FIELD: HISTORICAL
Residential Placements, an Undervalued Resource in Social Work Education and Training
Writing a third of a century ago
It is now over four years since CCETSW published Paper 3—‘Residential Work is a part of Social Work"1 — in which they recommended the integration of training for field and residential social workers on CQSW courses. A number of social work courses have implemented this policy and no doubt many Community Home Schools will have been receiving students on longer placements than the usual one month’s ‘observation.’ All too often, these shorter placements have been seen as a negative experience for the student, as an illustration of ‘how not to do it’ and a confirmation that Goffman’s2 ideas should be accepted wholesale despite the fact that the situations in which they are placed are often neither comparable to Goffman’s illustrations, nor are they total institutions.
The second half of an article3 published in this Gazette serves as a good illustration of a negative approach to learning in the residential setting, although it should be stated quite clearly that the general tone of the article, whilst rightly condemning bad practice is not inimical to the idea of residential care and makes some valuable comments in the first part. Three areas which might be of particular value in training are discussed, the first being the interpretation of reports. One is left in little doubt that it is being suggested that students should be sent on residential placements, so that when they qualify as fieldworkers they will have developed the ‘skill’ of interpreting reports written by residential workers with a pinch of salt. This approach is scarcely conducive to fostering a mutual professional respect based on an understanding through knowledge and experience of each others' role. The second area discussed in this article serves as a further illustration of a negative approach to residential placements: ‘The avoidance of collusion in bad practice.’ A list is given of examples of bad practice which, we all know, do exist, and the suggestion is made that ‘a student in placement will have ample opportunities to evaluate the dysfunctional elements of care to which some residents are subjected, hopefully resulting in less collusion later in his career.’ It is important not to deny the relevance—and importance —of this aspect of learning, but to plan it as one of three main educational goals for a placement would seem to be undervaluing the positive elements which a placement in a residential setting can offer. It should be the responsibility of social work courses to place their students in establishments where there is minimum dysfunction and maximum good practice. It is worth recording at this point that the preciousness which can often surround the privacy of the relationship between client and worker in the casework/fieldwork situation, often conceals much bad practice; whilst on the other hand, the visibility of much that goes on in a residential setting can produce a goldfish bowl situation which highlights faults also often present in a less obvious way in other social work situations, but where, because they are less apparent, they draw less critical attention. In making such a statement it is not intended that the dysfunctional element in residential care should be ignored or white-washed—merely a plea that it be considered alongside more positive learning situations which that setting has to offer and which have been largely ignored.
Before examining some of those in detail, the third area in the article under discussion headed ‘Concern for the residents themselves,’ deserves comment. It represents an attempt by experiential leaming to approximate the students’ experience of residential care to that of a client. Whilst laudable in its concern for the client it presents serious doubts as to the comparability of these two situations, and again is followed by a statement which implies the assumption that all residential practice is bad, i.e., ‘This demands regular questioning of the strange rules and codes of conduct which are frequently embodied in the residential task, a whole gamut of traditional built-in ideas which do not stand close scrutiny.’ The new developments towards an integrated training for residential and fieldworkers should, once fully under way, increase the number of qualified skilled workers potentially available for practice in the residential setting. Unless students’ experience of that setting is geared to a real understanding of its potential for work with clents, then because they will be discouraged from working in that setting, the percentage of qualified, skilled workers will remain low and standards of practice will stand little chance of development and improvement.
Apart from the impetus towards integrated training there are other issues current in theory, which hold the promise of a better deal for residential practice by the social work profession as a whole in the future. One of these concerns new developments in the theory related to social work practice. For a long time the concept of ‘casework’ dominated social work thinking to the extent that the terms ‘casework’ and ‘social work` were seen by some as synonymous whilst other areas of practice were excluded from the description ‘social work.’ More recently group work and community work have been accepted as discrete methods alongside casework, and the debate continues as to whether residential work is a ‘fourth method’ or a setting in which the three ‘methods’ are practised. Latterly 4 attempts have been made to put forward an ‘inte· grated’ approach combining all the ‘methods’ which renders this debate obsolete and offers great potential for developing the theoretical framework of residential work and for incorporating it into the mainstream of social work thought and practice .5
Integration in theory needs to be followed by an attempt to integrate practice and the concept of the ‘key worker' 6 is an encouraging beginning to the long process of breaking down some of the rigid role boundaries which have traditionally existed between residential and field social work. Taken further7 this concept refutes the common idea that residential and community care are contradictory in nature, and leads to an appreciation of the complementary nature of their roles and the need for closer links.
Other areas of theory which have had a disproportionate influence on the negative way in which residential care is viewed are the ideas of Bowlby and of Goffman. With increasing cynicism about the validity of the psycho-analytic framework, and with recent re-assessments of maternal deprivation theories8 their implications for residential practice have less adverse impact. Similarly, although Goffman9 has served a useful function in highlighting the problems of institutionalisation rarely has his negative approach been counter-balanced by a clear expression of the validity of and the need for residential care, though flaws in Goffman’s statement have at least been pointed out for some time.“10 Additionally recent cases of NAI [Non-Accidental Injury] have received much attention in the press and have made both public and professional opinion aware of the traumas a child or a young person can suffer in a poor home situation—a reality of which residential workers have been only too aware.
It would appear therefore that the current stage of theoretical background has the potential for the values of residential work to receive more recognition than in the past, and it would seem important to articulate what the setting has to offer as a positive learning experience to students on placement.
Several general principles seem to be important:
(1) That the student does not necessarily have to be intending to work in the residential setting on completing the course in order to benefit from a supervised placement in that setting concerned with skill development rather than observations.
(2) That the student does not necessarily have to ‘live in’ throughout the placement, though this would be helpful for some of the time. More important than this is the need for the student to be flexible in his approach to the placement regarding the time he spends in it, being prepared to accept shift hours and work some weekends with time off in lieu during the week.
(3) That a pattern of regular supervision needs to be established. Whilst in fieldwork agencies the tradition of casework supervision is a well-established one, it is a mistake to adopt that model of supervision in total in the residential setting for which it may not be appropriate.‘° Residential workers need to clarify what the task of the supervisor is in a residential setting and to adopt a more appropriate model—one possibility might be, for instance, that of ‘co-ordinator’ of the student’s leaming experience, enabling him to use various people both inside and outside the establishment who might all contribute to the learning process.
(4) That the role of the student as a temporary member of the group needs careful thought and planning so as not to be disadvantageous to residents, staff or student, but rather that the placement will be of positive value for each group. In a residential placement, the student’s . role is often more explicitly that of ‘student’ than in the fieldwork setting, where the client can be unaware of his worker’s student status. Where the placement experience is so managed that the student will be expected to cross the role boundaries between field and residential worker, it is important that he is given adequate supervision and support from both sides to overcome the practical and administrative problems.
(5) That although the focus of skills and knowledge varies in different social work settings, there is a common base which includes residential work. For example—‘residential’ skills need to be used by field-workers when taking young people on Intermediate Treatment Projects which may involve a week or longer at camp, and placements should be geared to making explicit for the student the concept of the transfer of skills.
Bearing in mind this idea of the transferability of skills, within the framework of an integrated approach to social work methods, the residential setting would seem to offer valuable learning experiences as, for example, in the areas set out below, and others which can be appropriate to whatever setting in which a student may wish to work. It is, of course, assumed that from this very general outline placements would be individually ‘tailored’ for each student, in discussions with tutor, supervisor and student prior to the beginning of the placement when the goals and the means of achieving them will be identified and selected by the three parties involved. A continuing process of evaluation and feedback is also assumed.
(a) Work with individuals. The development of knowledge and skills in: preadmission and continuing contacts with selected residents and their families; assessment and admission processes; aspects of relationship work—e. g. , communication, acceptance, trust, support decision making advocacy, conflict, authority, recording; the use of ‘Life Space’ situations; forming contracts with residents and their families; the rehabilitation process and the continuing support of residents and families; and work with individuals, who are not residents/clients, but who represent other agencies in significant contact with the resident or establishment in which the resident is placed should have place in this section.
(b) Work with Groups. Towards a basic understanding of the implications of group living; the ability to identify different group and sub-group functions and interactions within the institution and the development of skills in working with these. These can be identified in various ways; e. g., formal/informal groups; work/activity groups; leisure groups; peer groups; staff groups; ‘therapy’ or ‘treatment’ orientated groups; discussion groups; educational groups etc. The relationship between individuals and groups. Responsibility for setting up and running for a period of time a group of some kind.
(c) Community Involvement. An awareness of the interaction of the residential establishment and the immediate neighbourhood; of the interaction between the institution and the agency’s wider social service provision; and of the relationship between the establishment and society at large, e. g. , the courts, schools, hospitals, etc. Participation in these links may take place along the lines generally understood to be included in the terms: community organisation: development, or action, as appropriate to the situation.
(d) Study of the implications of particular topics bringing a close link with the course: e.g., deprivation theory, violence, communication, institutionalisation, role, cultural variation, stigma, the family, etc.
(e) Some insight by both observation and paticipation into management and policy making procedures. The quality of the management of any social work agency has obvious bearing on the quality of care. Because of the more clearly defined boundaries and the small size of units in a residential establishment than in other areas of social work practice, the effect of administrative procedures on the caring process is seen more clearly.
It should be emphasised that the areas presented here are only an outline and that, inevitably, there are numerous advantages and difficulties inherent in this approach not represented here, and which lend themselves to further discussion and development both in the theoretical and practice aspects. One fact is indisputable; that to date, the contribution of residential work to social work education has been consistently undervalued.
1. Working Party on Education and Training for Residential Work Residential Work is a part of Social Work (CCETSW Paper 3) London: CCETSW, 1973.
2. E. Goffman Asylums Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.
3. L. F. Davis ‘Oil and water?’ Community Home Schools Gazette Vol. 70 No. 3 June 1976 pp. 110-114.
4. e. g. H. M. Bartlett The Common Base of Social Work Practice New York: 1970; A. Pincus & A. Minahan Social Work Practice: Model and Method Ithaca, Ill.: Peacock, 1973; H. Goldstein Social Work Practice, a unitary approach Columbia: Univ. of S. Carolina Press, 1973.
5. for an account of the position of residential work in relation to the development of the integrated approach, see C. Payne ‘Residential work’ Chapter 12 in (eds) H, Specht & A. Vickery Integrating Social Work Methods (NISW Social Services Library No. 31) London: Allan & Unwin, 1977.
6. British Association of Social Workers/Residential Care Association Working Party "The Relationship between Field and Residential Work’ Published simultaneously in Residential Social Work and Social Work Today, September 1976.
7. D. Elliott ‘lntegrated Methods and Residential Work’ Social Work Today Vol. 9 No. 24 14th February 1978.
8. M. Rutter Maternal Deprivation Reassessed Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972; A. M. Clarke & A. D. B. Clarke Early experience: myth and evidence London; Open Books, 1976.
9. E. Goffman Asylums Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968.
10. G. Smith Social Work and the Sociology of Organisations London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.
This feature: Community Home Schools Gazette, September 1978.