Residential Child Care in Practice by Mark Smith, Leon Fulcher and Peter Doran

In my opinion this is the best text book about residential child care for a very long time. When reading it, I found myself wanting to say, “Hear, hear” three or four times per page.

In addition to the acknowledgements, foreword, introduction and conclusion, there are eight chapters entitled:

  • Safe and secure: a sense of belonging
  •  Nurtured: a sense of care
  •  Healthy: a sense of well-being
  •  Achieving and enjoying: education in its widest sense
  •  Active: a sense of purpose
  •  Respected and responsible: the idea of citizenship
  •  Contributing: developing generosity
  •  Included: a sense of community participation.

Anyone who is involved in residential child care will have spotted that all of these themes are key elements in working directly with children. Too often texts have been about the management of residential care, rather than the core task of working with children. In this book the focus is almost entirely on meeting the needs of children, with only a hint here and there about the implications for managing the services.

Each chapter starts with a realistic scenario, goes on to discuss the topic, and ends with a return to the scenario and suggestions for ways in which staff may follow up the theme with further reading or discussion.

There are (at least) nine reasons for reading this book.

  1. As mentioned above, the book describes the realities of work with children and young people. It rings true, for example in the scenarios.
  2. It does not duck the difficulties, such as restraining children, young people running away or drug-taking, but it discusses them level-headedly and in practical terms.
  3. The book’s main focus is on relationships, as they are the key to positive outcomes for children and young people in residential care.
  4. The authors address the damaging aspects of some recent social work thinking and of managerialism, both of which have undermined good quality residential care in recent years.
  5. The style of writing makes for very easy reading. It is not jargonistic, though specialist terms are used and are carefully explained when necessary.
  6. It is based on a very wide range of residential care literature, from the early classics to recent writing. The references do not overwhelm the reader, as in some academic texts, but there are plenty of pointers for further reading.
  7. It incorporates the latest ideas, such as social pedagogy, restorative practice and salutogenesis (which I had not met before).
  8. The book is positive and inspiring, focusing on what can be achieved. Residential establishments are in a sense the intensive care units of the social care world and they are expected to address major problems, but this is not something to get depressed about. It is a challenge which can be faced, and if the child or young person succeeds, it is a source of real job satisfaction.
  9. It says a lot of the things which we have been trying to say in the Webmag over the last twelve years.

This book should become a standard text book for all residential child care workers – not only on training courses when there is time to read but also by using its chapters as sources for professional development in staff meetings.

It should also be read by all social workers working with children and families, so that they can develop a realistic view of the positives which good residential care has to offer, rather than the Goffman-based negative perceptions which have riddled social work qualifying courses for the last forty years.

Does the book have any drawbacks? There are two, in my opinion. Despite majoring on relationships and life space I do not think that the few references (e.g. p. 30) to the resident group sufficiently recognise the potential of the children and young people to set norms, offer support and create a positive culture. Of course groups can become destructive and damaging, but if a good atmosphere is developed it can work wonders in helping children and young people take a more creative and positive view of life. Because of the short-termism of much recent residential care this has been lost in the UK, and this book could have helped to retrieve it as a positive strength.

Secondly, the last chapter included some important points, but it did not carry the conviction of the earlier chapters and impressed as a collection of also-ran ideas. My comment may be unfair, but the chapter did not hold my attention in the same way as the rest of the book. These criticisms should in no way be seen as detracting from the value of the book as a whole.

Leon Fulcher and Mark Smith are established authors, but I had not come across Peter Doran before. The chapters are not attributed, and so general congratulations should be offered to all three for an excellent publication. And a feather in BASW’s cap for publishing it in their Social Work in Practice series.

Smith, Mark, Fulcher, Leon and Doran, Peter (2013) Residential Child Care in Practice: Making a Difference
The Policy Press, Bristol
ISBN 978 1 84742 310 8

2 thoughts on “Residential Child Care in Practice by Mark Smith, Leon Fulcher and Peter Doran

  1. Interesting observation about the last chapter of the book – it’s not always the final chapter, but I do often notice there will be chapters or sections that lack the drive that made the rest of a book/resource so special. Glad to hear it didn’t detract from the overall value of this particular child care publication.

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