NUMBER 1004 • 17 JULY • residential workers
Few residential workers who live and work in the type of situations which involve the development of close relationships with disturbed children will not have experienced the anguish of moral dilemmas or found their own values unchallenged by the onslaught of the children. Few, I would argue, remain unscathed by their experience – personal moral destruction and loss of a sense of integrity being common. It is impossible in our residential settings to remain ‘non-judgemental’, ‘value free’ or ‘objective’– these are indeed nonsense terms – since we are called upon by society and by our own motivations to educate, reform and restore to society our charges. In the main, we uphold the standards of society and implement their wishes. Not, of course, in the didactic manner of the approved schools do we now appear as reformers. We do not beat into our children standards of behaviour, line them up for training, and bombard them with righteousness. We are not so readily identifiable as a force for law and order. The view of many members of the public, indeed, is that we are collusive with delinquents, are zealous in our protection of them to the extent of finding excuses for unacceptable social behaviour.
Here lies one area of the conflict – what social psychologists might try to pass over as a ‘role conflict’ or role confusion. (Again another utterly useless concept.) It is certainly no longer clear to us what our task is and we often make a hideous mess of making it clear to our children. On the one hand we receive children sent to us through the courts because of anti-social behaviour – so rightly seen by our children as a punishment. On the other hand we tend to see our task in treatment terms as being to deal with the causes of disturbance and their symptoms, creating possibilities for the child to build up healthy areas of functioning and to some degree trying to make the child feel valued and worthwhile. We are often at pains to explain to a child that being sent to us is not a punishment – despite the fact that everyone else up to that point has been suggesting that it is – and we rejoice with the few who are able to accept placement in care as being beneficial to them, caring and nurturing. Yet magistrates and members of the public, often kept at a discreet distance from the community home, may well often be pressing for good old-fashioned discipline, deprivation of privileges, and retribution. We, too, in our weaker moments when a child has absconded for the ninth time in a month, and has yet again been stealing, wistfully toy with the idea of a ball and chain or, less-mercifully, a garrotte.
STUART R. WALKLEY
Walkley, S.R. (1979). The struggle to maintain personal integrity and morality in a community home. Community Home Schools Gazette, March 1979