NUMBER 1053 • 25 SEPTEMBER • residential work
Writing from more than 35 years ago ...Residential work has not, until very recently, been regarded as something deserving study in its own right. Each social service whether stemming from Poor Law, penal, medical or educational roots has separately maintained a variety of residential care or placement, but we have been slow to see common factors in all kinds of residential care. Moreover, residential provision is an institutionalization of care by the community for members with special needs which, in simpler societies, was the concern of the extended family, or tribal organization, or of the Church. To some extent therefore, all kinds of residential care imply ‘being put away’. As an uncomfortable and sometimes painful aspect of social organization, such institutions (except the public schools) tend to be starved of money and social approval, and the work they do is undervalued and often misunderstood. At a less conscious level, the fact that residential provision is generally only needed when the family, or other informal social organization has failed arouses anxiety and guilt on the part of people still managing within the normal social supports. They tend to shy away from this exposure of inadequacy in society and thus indirectly in themselves. So we mostly put up with such institutions without wanting to know much about them.
This book is an attempt to rescue residential work from the backwaters of the social services; to state the needs that have to be met and the personal and administrative resources that are required; and to look squarely at some of the problems involved if residential provision is to be adequately supported or the need for it appropriately limited by other forms of community care.
It should be said first that residential work, i.e. care of the individual away from the family or social network that would normally look after him, is always likely to be, and perhaps should increasingly be, a residual service. In the present situation in this country some one to three thousand children are in residential care for no other reason than that their parents cannot get adequate housing within their means. This should check any complacency, and stress once again that it is both morally unjustifiable and uneconomic to use residential provision for those whose difficulties could be resolved by other means.
The real task of residential work is to provide for those individuals (and there will always be some) who cannot be tolerated within the normal community, and so have to be to some extent withdrawn from it (or as they often feel, ‘put away’). And there will always be some individuals who, though they can be tolerated in the normal community, are likely to be deprived of normal opportunity for development as persons unless given special help. It is concern for such individuals, whether handicapped, ‘bad’ or ‘mad’, that motivates many residential workers who are not content to see them regarded somehow as second-class citizens.
To say that residential work is a residual service is not to regard it as a second best of the social services, but to recognize the challenge to our society of those who are rejected by it or disabled from making the fullest use of their human potentiality. It may be that lessons painfully learned in residential work have far-reaching implications for the fieldwork side of the social services and for day care services catering for a large proportion of the individual’s life space.
This book is concerned with provision for children and young people, i.e. those of school age or under and those over school age but under twenty-one. It has implications for residential work with adults in mental hospitals, prisons, sheltered hostels and old people’s homes, but these need separate examination and will not be dealt with directly here.
Beedell, C. (1970) Residential Life with Children. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp.1-3