Residential care for children is seen by some social workers as a
sign of failure and only to be considered when numerous, better,
options have been tried, tried again and failed. But, while all the
inquiries into abuse in residential care settings clearly highlight
the dangers in unregulated and poor provision, many children are
also abused in family settings – so why do we still hang onto the
idea that family is best?
I have come to believe that when considering the best place to
provide care for vulnerable and abused children it is not always
the family-type environment that should be considered first. When
families breakdown or abuse their children the subsequent
assessment should consider if this child needs or wants to be
placed with a replacement family.
We currently have one 14-year-old resident who wants to live with
his mother but he is not sure she can care for him. His behaviour
would be totally unacceptable in an “ordinary” family environment.
He does not want a foster placement, because he already has a
family so he sees residential care as an acceptable
Prior to coming to us he had 12 placements in three years. Some of
these were in residential homes, some foster placements. They may
or may not have been bad places but they clearly failed to meet his
needs. It is my experience that the dogmatic belief that
residential care is the last resort has led to the closure of the
debate about what type of residential care we need, and therefore
the failure of residential care to meet the complex needs of many
children in our care system.
Local authority service managers give out the message that
residential care is expensive and second rate. Social workers are
taught that family settings are best for all children, so the most
damaged, the most complex children are constantly moved around from
one placement to another. This is clearly unacceptable practice.
Rather than move them to find the right place, let’s get the right
balance and range of provision so that we can meet their needs the
Those of us who provide residential care need to be clear about the
nature and range of our services. We need to build a clear picture
of what is good residential care practice, underpinned by research
and education. Residential care practitioners need to be well
trained so that they can move from the shadows of social care
provision into the mainstream.
Paul Taylor is the manager of a residential home with
education for children.