NUMBER 906 • 10 FEBRUARY • RESIDENTIAL CARE AND PERSONNEL
The decline in residential group care for children and adolescents is more marked in certain countries than in others. In Ireland, Norway, Sweden, the United States, and the United Kingdom, the majority of children in out of home care are placed in foster care (Colton et al., 2002; Colton & Williams, forthcoming). However, in the Autonomous Region of Catalonia in Spain, roughly equal numbers of children and young people are placed in family foster care and residential group care. Approximately 13,000 young people were placed in each type of care in 1997 (Del Valle & Casas, 2002). In Poland, the balance is firmly in favour of residential care, with some 62,000 children placed in these settings against 50,000 in non-residential care (Stelmaszuk, 2002). In the Netherlands, admissions to residential group care are increasing despite the fact that official policy is directed at achieving the opposite result (Knorth, 2002). In many countries beyond Europe, residential group care accounts for by far the largest share of out of home placements (Colton & Williams, forthcoming). This applies to so-called developed, as well as developing, countries. In Japan, for example, over 90 per cent (approximately 33,000) of all children and young people placed outside their families of origin are accommodated in residential group homes, compared with just 6.4 per cent placed in family foster care. Further, the numbers placed in family foster care are declining to the extent that the system itself is in danger of disappearing. In part, this trend seems to reflect the overriding value which Japanese people place on consanguine or kinship relationships in respect of the care and upbringing of children (Colton & Williams, forthcoming). Thus, it would appear that the balance between family foster and residential group care is as much a reflection of philosophy as reasoned decision making about which setting would most benefit a particular young person.
Public confidence in residential group care in the UK has been undermined by high profile scandals associated with the physical, sexual and emotional abuse of children and young people (see, for example, Waterhouse et al., 2000; Colton, 2002). Local authority social services in the UK currently look after approximately 65,000 children and young people, the majority of whom are placed with foster carers. In England, an estimated 10,000 young people are placed in residential group care. Nevertheless, residential group care personnel continue to perform a vital role in child welfare in the UK. Some young people express a clear preference for residential group care over family placement (Sinclair & Gibbs, 1998). Residential group care can be the only viable placement for young people whose complex emotional and behavioural difficulties effectively rule out other placements (see, for example, McCann et al., 1996). Many young people in residential group care have experienced several broken foster family care placements and have been sexually abused prior to being placed in residential group care (Warner, 1997).
Given that the role of residential child care personnel is demanding, it is hardly surprising that research has highlighted high turnover and burnout among such personnel in many countries. Fleischer (1985) found that turnover among child and youth care workers was linked to workload, lack of clear performance feedback, and lack of supervisor support. In a pan-cultural analysis, Savicki (2002) demonstrated that cultural factors are related to burnout in child and youth care workers, and identified the following important factors in preventing burnout: teamwork training and support; supportive supervision; planned workplace and manageable pace; flexible, enriching work; and coping strategy training. Breda and Verlinden (2002) also carried out empirical research in the special child and youth services in Flanders, Belgium on prevention of burnout. Further, Bednar (2003), reviewed the literature on staff turnover and impaired performance resulting from burnout and job dissatisfaction in child welfare workers.
Colton, M. (2005) Modelling morale, job satisfaction, retention and training among residential child care personnel . International Journal of Child and Family Welfare, 8 (2-3) pp.58-75