NUMBER 943 • 13 APRIL • residential care
Residential care is conceived in general as a temporary measure, even if placement sometimes promises to be for a considerable part of an individual’s childhood. A child is placed, assigned, or committed —however the technical language denotes it — as a “client” of the group care service. The child never moves there. Basically, children conceive of their family setting as their home and their home community. Such awareness requires that linkages with the previous home, friends, and other basic community contacts remain part of the child’s life while in placement. Moreover, these continuous contacts evolve into participant roles and possibly even recipient roles of agency service in helping facilitate the child’s successful return to his or her regular community.
As already implied, children do not lay aside their previous attachments and associations by a mere placement to a new care setting. Old relationships continue; they impact the quality of new ones, especially if these previous associations have been touched by uncertainty and conflictual alignment. The notion of a sense of having a past with continuity is essential for the children. Their care giving service needs to work with the children’s past alignments and community affiliations as an integral aspect of the children’s lives. The same position could be justified on a humanitarian basis; it is their right. Those people who have been intertwined in the child’s life have a continuous stake, interest, and commitment; parents, friends, and others cannot be locked out by the altering of a child’s care arrangements.
In these days of rapid communication contacts can be maintained by phone, exchange of letters, and face-to-face encounters either by children returning to their home sites or by family and friends dropping in at the group care place. Many child care group settings set as part of their policy the return home of children on weekends or for other regular periods. By means of these contacts child and parent are able to see each other and honor their attachments, however smooth or difficult, so that all can be actively assisted in acquiring skills for dealing with one another. These continued child-parent contacts require active assistance and planning by the group care service. Both parties, separately and together, need to be helped with the progression of their relationship. Counseling by social workers (Magnus, 1974), family therapy for all parties involved (Letulle, 1979), child management and human relationship skill training by the child care workers (Webster, Somjen, Shoman, Bradley, Mooney & Mack, 1979), and any or all of these three interventive approaches may be applicable.
Most important in the approach suggested here, there is a shift away from conceiving placement in a linear model. Instead group care and home life are viewed as meaningful and interweaving components. In this framework, when the child returns home for a short or long stay the group care worker’s interest; concern, and active involvement will go along. Conversely, while a child is in group care the parent (or parents) wants to know, should know, and is entitled to know of the child’s life in the institution.
To facilitate contacts between the children in group care and their families, special thought needs to be directed toward providing an environment which furthers spontaneity and natural give-and-take. Among other factors, these encounters can be enlivened within the group care setting by a comfortable and inviting meeting place. Furniture has to be practical and adaptable for rearrangement to suit the situation. Preferably such a place should also include facilities where people can prepare food right on the spot for eating together. Eating assists with linking people. Often a parent wants to provide and is missed for his or her “special” cooking. Child care workers might also on occasion join these gatherings. Indeed child, parent(s), and care workers are full partners in residential group care. Parents and care workers need not be competitive as alternate care givers; they are really co-care givers and are actually “co-parenting”
Maier, H.M. (1987) Developmental Group Care of Children and Youth: Concepts and Practice. New York: Haworth Press. pp.80-81