Report 58: Therapeutic approaches to social work in residential child care settings

Does it make a difference?

I like it because you sort of have to know the children better; you have to get to know them on a different level... it’s totally different, our relationships with our young people’s families are totally different. And I attribute that to [our model].

Residential child care worker

Do therapeutic approaches make a difference to social work in residential child care? This study suggested that they do.

Staff reported improvements in their knowledge, skills, competence and confidence. Those who were initially sceptical usually became converts after seeing the difference that training and implementation made.

It made a difference to how staff felt, to their morale and their practice. Young people reported changes that reflected these claims by staff that life was less confrontational, children were better understood, relationships improved and fewer serious incidents were happening.

Benefits of a shared approach

We could argue that any qualified social worker should be equipped to do this work, and compared with the rest of the UK, Northern Ireland has an unusually high percentage of qualified social workers in children’s residential care.

However, residential care is a challenging environment and a particular approach needs to be put into practice at the whole team level to be effective.

This is not something that is typically addressed at qualifying level, where the emphasis is very much on individual competence and individual intervention.

An initiative such as this puts the approach on a level that is beyond individual responsibility, and potentially gives a stronger basis for changing practice on a systemic level.

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