‘The Training and Recruitment of Staff for Residential Work’ by Clare Winnicott

Clare Winnicott (1971) The training and recruitment of staff for residential work Child in care, 11(1), 16-23

Clare Britton had been one of the first psychiatric social workers to be trained in England and during the Second World War had worked with the psychiatrist, Donald Winnicott, whom she later married, on a project to support evacuated children in Oxfordshire whose behaviour was causing difficulties (Winnicott and Britton, 1957). She was Chair of the child care course at the London School of Economics from 1947-1958, suffering a major blow when the decision was taken to make it a generic social work course (Kanter, 2004). In 1963 she became Director of Studies at the Home Office Central Training Council, where she developed a wide range of initiatives. This paper was her swan song presented to the Keele Conference on Residential Care in 1970, not long before she lost her job in the re-organisation that was to usher in the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work.

Key Points

  • Education can only take place when care has been established.
  • Treatment is the conscious elaboration of normal caring processes to provide the ‘plus factor in residential work’ (p. 17).
  • Residential workers should become ‘focal therapists’ harnessing all the resources needed to meet a child’s needs.
  • There should be a progression in training so that theoretically everyone has the chance of reaching the highest level.
  • Training is only the start of professional development.


She begins by stressing the connection between delinquency and a broken home and that most children in care are not orphans but come from broken homes. It is important therefore that, in merging approved schools and children’s homes into community homes under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969, we understand the natures of both education and care.

She argues that education, in its original meaning of ‘leading out,’ is a nourishing process which can only taken place within good care and that both these processes are central to residential child care. A child can only develop in a caring environment which also offers control and the opportunities to develop.

She argues that treatment is the conscious elaboration of the normal helping processes that take place between adults and children and that lead to maturity. These entail both involvement and interaction, involvement which expresses care and interaction which expands what is normally available – the ‘plus factor in residential work’ (p. 17).

She sees the residential worker as a ‘focal therapist’, someone who mobilises all the resources within the individual and the group, the family and the community, primarily within the living unit because, without that base, it will be more difficult to draw on all the other resources. But she also recognises that not all those who put themselves forward for training would be capable of carrying out this role; in other words, many people may have a contribution to residential work but not all of them could be expected to take on a full professional role. She concludes that there must be different levels of training for different people in residential work.

Currently there were 64,000 children in the various residential establishments for children, being cared for by 15,500 staff of whom 14% [or just over 2,000] hold the one year Certificate in the Residential Care of Children and Young People. In fact, 4,339 people had taken the course since 1948 and 169 the more recently introduced advanced courses. A slightly higher percentage of approved school staff held a certificate compared with children’s home staff.

She had seen as one of her priorities the large number of people either coming into or already in residential care who did not want or were not eligible for full time training and in 1967 had introduced the In-service course which 2,000 students had already taken. A year earlier the Preliminary Certificate in Residential Child Care for 16-18 year old school leavers had been launched; there were now 43 of these courses with an annual intake of over 600, 60% of whom would take jobs in residential child care. In the light of the success of these initiatives, the Central Training Council was launching a part-time version of the Certificate in the Residential Care of Children and Young People open only to those who had successfully completed either the In-service course or the Preliminary Certificate.

Looking to the future she envisages that the one year Certificate courses will increase in number but will eventually only be for those who already hold another qualification and that the newly announced two year courses leading to the Home Office Letter of Recognition and qualification for membership of the British Association of Social Workers will be supplemented by one year Letter of Recognition courses for those who already hold the one year Certificate. She announces that the advanced courses are shortly to be reviewed and that they are expanding the provision of post-qualifying courses for senior staff.

She regrets that they have not come up with an appropriate way forward for qualified teachers who wish to obtain a child care qualification but they have started a training course at the National Institute for Social Work Training for experienced senior managers of residential care resources.

The aim has been to provide ‘a progression of training provision so that theoretically everyone could achieve the highest level of qualification’ (p. 21) and she anticipates that in due course 30% will have completed the two year courses, 40-50% a part-time course and the remainder be on the In-service course or have completed the Preliminary course. She notes that the introduction of the In-service courses has stimulated recruitment to residential care and she looks forward to a time when there will be easy movement of people between fieldwork and residential work. However, training is only one aspect of the current situation and working conditions also need to be improved.

She argues that the content of the training should cover individual development, including the impact of disability, family and community relationships, group processes and the use of all types of group in a group living situation, sociology, social administration, law, organisation theory, philosophy and ethics, creative activities and the significance of domestic activities in primary caring processes.

Supervision needs to be available in practical placements, in particular to enable students to integrate theory and practice, and this will be a priority in expanding training provision.

But training is only the start of professional development; it needs to be supported by further study and ongoing professional development. This needs to take place within the residential unit itself through supervision and support from more experienced staff members, staff meetings and sometimes the use of outside experts. It also needs to take place through external courses and through participation in national and international short courses and conferences. Conditions of service need to enable all these opportunities to be explored.

In summary, a complete professional training programme has to have pre-qualifying training, qualifying training, post-qualifying training and advanced training.


She starts from the widely held 1960s misconception that delinquency is associated with broken homes – it isn’t; it is associated with unhappy homes, whether or not they are broken (Rutter, 1971) – but goes on to offer an integrated view of care and education which is not too different from the continental concept of the ‘social pedagogue’ (Jones, 1993; Petrie et al., 2003).

Her concept of the residential worker as a ‘focal therapist’ is not dissimilar to the account given by Ainsworth (1981) but perhaps rather ambitious. Vander Ven (1981) suggests that working in this way within the establishment (at the meso-system level) is different from working in this way with those outside the establishment (at the exo-system level). However, this would not matter in the long run because the idea of a progression in training would enable residential workers to deal with the different demands of working at these different levels at different stages in their professional development.

It is perhaps difficult now, since lifelong learning has become a recognised concept, to recognise how ground-breaking her framework was in 1970. It was then widely believed that intelligence declined after 26 and most of the research showing that intelligence continues to develop throughout most of our lives (Schaie and Willis, 2001) had not been undertaken, let alone published. The Curtis Committee (Care of Children Committee, 1946) had recommended refresher courses and training for senior staff as well as basic training for heads of homes but her framework extended training to all staff and provided a graduated scheme of training which would enable all staff to obtain whatever level of training they could aspire to.

She also did not have the advantage of the research by King et al. (1971) showing that modelling good practice is the key to developing quality care and that good supervision would involve presenting a model of appropriate behaviour accompanied by a verbal narrative and demonstration of beneficial consequences (Argyle, 1994). But she knew that you could not simply put students in a placement and expect them to learn or to integrate theory and practice.

The framework she attempted to put in place carried on for another ten years but was eventually dismantled by the Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work in 1980 with the Preliminary Course gaining a reprieve that allowed it to carry on into the 1990s. An attempt to create a new developmental framework (Central Council for Education and in Social Work, 1984) was snuffed out by opposition from the British Association of Social Workers and much of the academic community and subsequent attempts to use the National Vocational Qualifications framework to develop an alternative framework (Residential Forum, 1998) have met with little support. Though many of the details of her framework are no longer relevant, her vision for the development of child care training is as relevant today as it was forty years ago.


Ainsworth, F (1981) The training of personnel for group care with children In F Ainsworth and L Fulcher (Eds) Group care for children: concept and issues, Chapter 9, pp. 225-244 London: Tavistock

Argyle, M (1994) The psychology of interpersonal behaviour (Fifth ed.) London: Penguin

Care of Children Committee (1946) Training in child care: interim report of the Care of Children Committee Cmd 6760 London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office Chairman: Myra Curtis

Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work (1984) Review of qualifying training policies: final report of Council Working Group Paper 20.2 London: Central Council for Education and Training in Social Work

Jones, H D (1993) The training of social pedagogues in the European Community after 1992 In R Soisson (Ed.) Politik, Forschung und Ausbildung in der Heimerziehung, pp. 153-159 Zürich: FICE Verlag Proceedings of the FICE Congress 1992 in Luxembourg

Kanter, J (Ed.) (2004) Face to face with children: the life and work of Clare Winnicott London: Karnac

King, R D, Raynes, N V and Tizard, J (1971) Patterns of residential care: sociological studies in institutions for handicapped children London: Routledge & Kegan Paul See also Children Webmag April 2009

Petrie, P, Boddy, J, Cameron, C, Heptinstall, E, McQuail, S and Wigfall, V (2003) Working with children: social pedagogy and residential child care in Europe Unpublished Report to the Department of Health

Residential Forum (1998) A golden opportunity: a report on training and staff development for people working in residential services for children and young people London: Residential Forum

Rutter, M (1971) Parent-child separation: psychological effects on the children Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 12 (4), 233-260

Schaie, K W and Willis, S L (2001) Adult development and aging (Fifth ed.) New York: Prentice Hall

Vander Ven, K D (1981) Patterns of career development in group care In F Ainsworth and L Fulcher (Eds) Group care for children: concept and issues, Chapter 8, pp. 201-224 London: Tavistock See also Children Webmag January 2009

Winnicott, D W and Britton, C (1957) Residential management as treatment for difficult children In D. W. Winnicott (Ed.) The child and the outside world: studies in developing relationships, Chapter II:6, pp. 98-116 London: Tavistock See also Children Webmag October 2009

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