Group Care Practice with Children and Young People Revisited by Leon C. Fulcher and Frank Ainsworth

Book Review by Kathleen Lane
Quite some years ago when I was a manager of several residential homes  I did a lot of training with the staff and also contributed to the Social Care Association short courses for basic grade care staff and for the senior staff in group homes and residential schools. I was always looking out for suitable material to use and adapt and for books to commend, particularly for the senior staff for their own further reading and use back in their workplaces.

One such treasure was Group Care Practice with Children and Young People Revisited by Leon Fulcher and Frank Ainsworth. In particular I turned eagerly to the chapter entitled Developing Social Competencies in Group Care Practice, in the hope that it would throw some light on the obsession with staff demonstrating ‘competencies’  in the workplace, being trumpeted by CCETSW in its dying throes.

As it turned out the chapter proved to be much more valuable to me – and I hope to numerous care workers – since it was actually about children’s learning styles, cognitive functioning, affect and motor functioning and a host of other things to consider. I know that it caused some staff to re-evaluate the behaviours of some children in their care and maybe, as a result, helped to encourage the development of more child-centred practice in a few places.

At some stage I met Frank Ainsworth and confessed to the use of his and Leon Fulcher’s material. Frank was very gracious and said it was fine by him, so long as I acknowledged it, which of course I did.

A few weeks ago I spotted Group Care Practice with Children and Young People Revisited on the Kibble stand at the Social Care Association Annual Seminar in Glasgow. I was interested to see that my old favourite was back in print, this time with additional papers from colleagues, some of whom had been prominent in FICE North America. I was then introduced to Leon Fulcher, reminisced about the earlier volume and found myself in possession of a copy for review.

It has been an experience which has left me with mixed feelings. First, I have to confess that all the comments I make are from someone who is no longer active in the field. Secondly, there have clearly been some changes, in that group care is now recognised as taking place in a variety of settings, not solely within residential facilities. So, while this freeing up of settings has opened up the possibilities of wider horizons for practitioners and those they seek to help, the monumental difficulties of intervening in other people’s lives have not been recognised by the public, nor by governments. Thirdly, sadly, it appears to be that there is still a largely untrained, under-educated workforce in agencies making uncoordinated responses to the needs of children, young people and their families, which Fulcher and Ainsworth acknowledge in their final chapter called Conclusion – Looking Ahead.

I was then left with the question of who this book is intended for. In my view much of the content would not sustain the interest of the vast majority of basic workers I have known over thirty years. It assumes a level of self awareness, reflection and planning not found in many ‘beginning workers’.

This seems to me to be the essence of the difference between residential care and field social work and was clearly demonstrated when I supervised some students on the RCCI route to DipSW. They were all managers with considerable residential work experience. They found placements in social work teams difficult when their colleagues spent time considering options, making plans and putting coping strategies in place.

One in particular was desperately wanting to spend a weekend with a client who was under threat that a violent ex-partner might find her and visit. Being used to having to make the instant response to a child tugging the sleeve, or break up a fight, she was most unhappy that the coping strategy planned by the social work team was to leave the client with a panic alarm in case the partner turned up. I found that much of the contents would not speak to some-one in this position.

The one exception is Chapter 9 by Martha Mattingly on Managing Occupational Stress for Group Care Personnel, which has the academic rigour and backing of research, but makes clear to all staff who read it that this writer is someone who has stood where they stand and understood their emotions.

The major shortfall for me is the absence of any in-depth references to the change in thinking in recent years of which I am aware in the UK, which is in the slow acceptance of the model of the social pedagogue from continental Europe. There is an implied recognition in Chapter Three, which states “Social competencies for children and young people in receipt of group care services require the support of teachers and group care workers whose practices are complementary.” Chapter 12 also mentions that “… such programmes need to be broader than education or social work.” There is also a passing mention that there are some exceptions in programmes in Canada, Ireland and in Western Europe.

While I accept that it is refreshing to have the wider perspective of experiences gained in the USA and in the antipodes, it is still unfortunate that the whole of continental Europe, with the graduate level entry of workers at the basic grade, has much to teach us. Perhaps there will be another volume taking into account the work done in other countries who are members of FICE. I commend the work done in the School of Education at the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia as an example.

On balance, although the ‘revisiting’ has not brought the book as up to date as one would desire, it still has the real strengths which I valued as a manager, some of the new material is excellent and it will be useful to trained professionals (though probably not to untrained sections of the workforce).

Finally, to end on a positive note, I quote from Martha Mattingley, who in Chapter 9 reminds us that “The possibilities are limited only by the scope of the imagination.” May be we should make sure every child is taught this throughout life.

Ainsworth, F. and Fulcher, L. C. (eds) (2006) Group Care Practice with Children and Young People Revisited Haworth Press, New York

ISBN 0 – 7890 – 3280 – 5

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