In residential child care, ‘practioners take as the theatre of their work, the actual living situation as shared and experienced by the child’ (Ainsworth, 1981, p.234). This reality makes it inevitable that emotional attachments and bonds will develop between workers and young people. Rather than avoid such attachments, child and youth care has to consider them as agents of personal growth and to assert them as fundamental to the professional task. Indeed one of the oft-quoted totems of the child and youth care tradition is Uri Bronfenbrenner’s assertion that every child needs at least one adult who is ‘crazy’ about them.

"Somebody’s got to be crazy about that kid, and vice versa!" But what does "crazy" mean? It means that the adult in question regards this particular child as somehow special — even though objectively the adult may well know that this is not the case... For the child, the adult is also special — someone to whom the child turns most readily in trouble and in joy, and whose comings and goings are central to the child’s experience and well-being. (Bronfenbrenner, 1994, pp. 118-119)

Residential child care must be concerned with enhancing a young persons development. This is a social process involving growth and development predicated largely upon the social interactions with carers and others in the young persons social network. Research has consistently demonstrated that it is the personal qualities of professional helpers which are the main criteria by which young people judge a service. They tend to confer trust on individuals where there is: a genuine willingness to understand the young person’s perspective and to convey empathy; reliability (keeping promises, being available, punctuality); taking action; respecting confidences (Hill, 1999). Jackson and Martin’s study (1998) of ‘high achievers’ who had grown up in care found that most of the high achievers reported a special relationship with at least one person who made time to talk with and listen to them; providing a positive adult role model (see also, Willow, 2000). For children and young people in residential care that adult might need to be one of the staff.

If the task of residential child and youth care is to promote growth and development, then consideration needs to be given as to how this is achieved. Phelan (1999) suggests that the task for workers in child and youth care is less to address past difficulties and failings through a counselling type relationship and more to arrange and become involved in activities and experiences which allow young people to re-script their personal ‘stories’. The increasing body of writing around ‘resilience’ (Daniel et al, 1999; Gilligan, 2001) similarly indicates the importance of staff and young people sharing activities across a range of sporting, cultural and leisure pursuits. It also highlights the importance of strong adult-child attachments as a powerful bulwark against abuse. Many staff in present organisational climates are wary of engaging in shared activities or in developing strong personal relationships. Yet in failing to do so they cannot fulfill some of the essential functions of the job.


Kendrick, A. & Smith, M. (2002) Close enough? Professional Closeness and safe caring.  Scottish Journal of  Residential Child Care. Vol. 1 August/September. pp 50-51


















Ainsworth, F. (1981) The training of personnel for group care with children, in Ainsworth, F. and Fulcher, L. (eds.) Group Care for Children: Concepts and Issues. London: Tavistock.
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Who cares for the children?, in Nuba, H; Searson, M.; Sheiman, D. L. (eds.) Resources for Early Childhood: A Handbook. New York: Garland. (edited paper from an individual address to UNESCO, Paris, & September 1989.).
Daniel, B. M.; Wassell, S. and Gilligan, R. (1999). Child Development for Child Care Services. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Gilligan, R. (2001). Promoting Resilience: A Resource Book on Working with Children in the Care System. London: British Agencies for Adoption and Fostering.
Hill, M. (1999). "What's the problem? Who can help": The perpective of children and young people on their well-being and on helping professionals. Journal of Social Work Practice. 13(2), 135-145.
Jackson, S. & Martin, P. Y. (1998). Surviving the care system: education and resilience. Journal Of Adolescence, 21, 569-583.
Phelan, J. (1999). Child and youth care work: experiments with experience. Journal of Child and Youth Care Work. Vol. 14 pp. 25-28
Willow, C. (2000). Safety in numbers? Promoting children's rights in public care, in Crimmens, D. and Pitts, J. (eds.) Positive Residential Practice: Learning the Lessons of 1990's. Lyme Regis: Russell House, pp 128-140.