Children and youth, whether in their own homes, day care, or around-the-clock group care settings, have the same basic life requirements for personal care, social and intellectual stimulation, leeway for creativeness and, above all, a sense of rootedness. Thus, the application of knowledge about human development as it applies to the major caregiving activities with the child or youth is particularly pertinent. Consequently, the focus in what follows is not on existing practice in group care (e.g., Arieli, Kashti &. Shlasky, 1983; Whittaker, 1979); rather it is on what could be accomplished in group care on the basis of contemporary human development knowledge.

Nurturing care experiences are essential for the healthy development of all children (Ainsworth, 1972; Bronfenbrenner, 1979), but these experiences are even more urgently needed by children and youth lacking secure and permanent roots. Being placed in day or residential care, or even going away to school or camp, may weaken a child’s previous linkages and cause a search for new attachments. We are reminded of instances where, in the absence of a valid care-giver, individuals create substitutes. For example, children in concentration camps became caregivers for one another when other alternatives were absent (Freud & Dann, 1951). Rhesus monkeys attached themselves to wiremesh "mothers" in the absence of their mothers (Harlow & Menus, 1977). It is in the providing of such nurturing care that care workers, frequently perceived as generalists, are actually [or should be] specialists (Barnes & Kelman, 1974, p. 12). They are the “social engineers” for nurturing care experiences. Other services, such as education, recreation, counseling, and health care are supplements to this kind of fundamental caring.

Interpersonal dependence is an ongoing force in human existence. Throughout our lives, we tend to depend on one or several central persons — parent or an alternate caregiver, a partner, or friends — for intimate, mutual care experiences. Dependence on personal nurturance is as essential as our dependence upon food and shelter. Thus, we do not develop from a state of dependence to one of independence; development is a continuous process and movement occurs from one level of dependence to another (Maier, 1986d). Certain caring persons —e.g., parent, elder, or significant friend — tend to remain an ongoing part of our lives whether or not they are in close proximity.

In non-familial living situations, child care workers provide the main source and substance of care experience and are the pivotal people in the residents’ daily lives (Pecora & Gingerich, 1981). They are the people most accessible and instrumental in providing care; they are Peter’s care persons with “jellied crackers.” The child care worker, as the target of the residents’ demands, is taken for granted, criticized, and cherished all at the same time. For the child, the care worker provides the essential experience of being cared for, of learning how to respond and to interact and, finally, to develop the capacity for extending caring to others.


Maier, Henry (1987). Children and Youth Grow and Develop in Group Care. Developmental Group Care of Children and Youth. New York: Haworth Press.
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Arieli, M.; Kashti, Y. & Shlasky, S. (1983). Living at School: Israel Residential Schools as People-processing Organisations. Tel-Aviv, Israel: Ramot Publishing.
Barnes, F. & Kelman, S. H. (1974) From Slogan to Concepts: A Basis for Change in Child Care Work. Child Care Quarterly. 34(1), 7-23
Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The Ecology of Human Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Freud, A. & Dann, S. (1951). An experiment in group upbringing. In Eisler, R.S. & Freud, A. (Eds) The Psychoanalytic Study of Child, Vol. VI. New York: International Universities Press. pp. 127-168.
Harlow, H. & Menus, C. (1977). The Power of Passion of Play. New Scientist, 10(2), 336-338
Maier, H. (1986d) Dependence and Independence Development throughout the Human Life Span: Implications for the Helping Professions. Seattle, WA: University of Washington. (Manuscript in preparation.)
Pecora, P. J. & Gingerich, W. J. (1981). Worker Tasks and  Knowledge Utilization in Group Care: First Findings. Child Welfare 60(4), 221-231.
Whittaker, J. (1979). caring for Troubled Children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.