What works best in residential care?

At 30 June 2008, 166 children, or 7.6 per cent, of all children on care and protection orders were in residential care in South Australia. Residential care is where a small group of residents live in a communal setting staffed by paid residential care workers.

The Guardian’s Office in December 2008 wrote a literature review about what works in residential care which was published on the Guardian’s website as What works best in residential care and which can be located in the search panel on the right.

The review revealed that residential care works best when it is seen as a positive choice, an option that offers high quality care that meets residents’ individual needs and as a valuable component of an integrated alternative care system. The purpose of residential care and its place in the broader care and protection system should be clear, understood and supported by all.

The quality of the environment was a key factor. The facility should demonstrate and be proud of providing high quality care and care in which the children are actively involved. Children and young people say that they value having ‘a say about how [a] house is run’ and ‘working together’ with workers who are ‘nice and supportive’.

A residence should be a place where ‘you get love, care and attention’. Residents and staff should feel good about their physical environment. Children and young people say that the best residential care occurs when the environment ‘is like your own home’. Like any home environment, relationships are critical. Children and young people want a place where ‘it is nice and you feel safe’ and where ‘everybody trusts each other’.

Residential care works best when services are provided that are relevant, accessible and tailored to each resident, rather than residents being fitted into the available services. Reporting on a positive experience, one resident says, ‘everyone is an individual really, and they treat us all individual.’

A good residential care facility should encourage and support the child’s education. One resident notes, ‘the best thing is that I can have help on planning my future.’ Another sees ‘the respect that I am given and the help’ as positive elements of residential care.

Finally, residential care works best when it works with communities and families. It should provide a place where residents are assisted to take their place in the broader community. Children and young people say that residential care should offer both ‘support and independence’ and facilitate ‘trust and freedom’. Residents value ‘being close to family and friends’ as well as opportunities for ‘making other friends’.

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