The Everyday and Ordinary in Residential Care
Anglin (2002) identified a variety of ways that residential group care could apply the concept of normality in everyday life.
Residential home routines. Normalization might mean establishing a normal rhythm for the week, the year, the day. There is a difference between school days and weekends, school year and summer vacation. Regular chores, normal bedtimes based on the child's age, week day or weekend, meals eaten family style, clearing the table, can all approximate family life.
Residential home appearance. Pictures on the wall, lamps on the tables, posters and family portraits in the bedrooms are ways to soften the institutional look and provide a more "homelike" feel and appearance. Rules and restrictions posted on the walls create an institutional, restrictive atmosphere. Furniture arranged in small groupings invite personal discussion and interaction.
Child behavior. All staff members should understand and be familiar with what is developmentally "normal" behavior for the children in their care. Children should be encouraged and have opportunities to behave like their contemporaries in the community. This may range from running around in circles with a sheet draped across their shoulders pretending to be super-heroes to spending long periods of time in front of a mirror combing their hair. Borrowing another girl's makeup, losing a shoe, being late for a meal are normal occurrences and can be used to help children grow and develop along normal developmental pathways. Children need assistance to learn how to be a "normal" teenager or "normal" nine year old. Their appearance should be similar to their peers in the community.
Family-like functioning. Some aspects of group care can simulate the interactions and experiences of "family life." Discussing each person's day at the dinner table, developing reciprocal relationships, helping children learn to care for others and give to the family are examples of how families function. Using language that reflects family or "normal" conversations instead of institutional terms or jargon when having conversations provides a sense of normalcy. Having real responsibility to others, contributing to the group, participating in decision-making within one's abilities are additional ways to provide for "family-like" experiences without pretending to be a family.
Socially acceptable behavior. If children are to develop the skills and resources they need to live in the community (social competence) and become a well-functioning adult, they need opportunities to tryout new skills and experience "normal" interactions and daily tasks. Eating in a restaurant, shopping for clothes, playing ball at the community center, are everyday experiences for children at home and in the community. Every child's life ought to be as close as possible to the life experiences of his or her peers in the community.
Providing these normalizing experiences within the child's zone of proximal development and in the context of group care is a challenge for the organization and care worker. Many of these daily routines and functions are "institutionalized" for convenience and cost savings (i.e., on grounds store, clothing bought in bulk and distributed, cafeteria style dining). Individualizing experiences in a group is always a difficult but necessary task. Some children in the group will be able to manage some of the normalizing routines better than others. Some children will need individualized support in coping with the simplest of daily tasks. Providing ordinary and everyday experiences for children in group care requires careful planning and special support based on individual children's needs and development.
Anglin, J. (2002). Pain, normality, and the struggle for congruence. New York: The Haworth Press. Quoted by Holden, M. (2009). Children and residential experiences: Creating conditions for change. Arlington VA: CWLA