Putting the child at the centre of inter-professional co-operation in out-of-home care

This paper explores theoretical understandings of child centeredness in inter-professional working.

  • Ida Schwartz
  • Child and Family Social Work 22 (2017)

The study is part of a wider project that explored how professionals work together to support children living in residential homes in Denmark to take part in school and leisure activities. The author explores how children's ability to develop "agency" is closely related to the concept of conditions of life, as developed by Schraube and Osterkamp in 2013, and the role of different professionals in this. The paper argues that inter-professional cooperation is needed to enable children in residential care to have an influence across different contexts in their daily lives.

The paper starts from a theoretical perspective which proposes that child development is linked to children's participation in everyday life across different contexts. Taking part in school and leisure-time activities is a key component of this, but can be challenging for children in residential care to achieve because of complex institutional conditions and being cared for by a team of professionals working in different contexts (for example, social pedagogues, teachers, social workers).

The paper draws on one case study from a Danish research project. The project followed four children, aged 10 to 15 and living in residential homes, over the course of five months. The researchers observed and interviewed the four children in their everyday lives in the residential home and during school and leisure activities.

The case study material comprises extracts from an interview with a 10-year-old boy, observations of his everyday life and discussions about him by different professionals. The chosen excerpts demonstrate how the boy tried to arrange his daily life so that he could spend time with his peers, as demonstrated in the following quote:

"I wanted to go for a walk (in the village). And then they say (the staff): ‘Yes, but you must not visit anyone (without permission beforehand)', and then I say okay. Then I go down to Sven (a schoolmate) and ask if he can play, and he wanted to. And then we went up here (to the residential institution). I was actually thinking of asking if we could get the (telephone) number (to Sven's parents), but we could not because he (the pedagogue) was immediately annoyed."

Residential home and school professionals discuss in a meeting that the boy is not ready to make arrangements and visit friends on his own because of his emotional problems and needing "clear rules and a firmly structured everyday life".

The author contrasts the leisure arrangements the child is trying to make with the arrangements that children who are not in care make. Children who are not in care learn to exert their influence through negotiations with other children and grown ups, but this is not the case for this boy. The author argues that this risks increasing his experience of not being able to influence his own life.

Implications for practice

This case study illustrates how children in care, like other children, try to arrange their daily life in order to participate in learning and play activities. The author argues that building relationships with other children can be difficult for children in residential care, and that close co-operation between professionals is needed to create conditions that allow these children to make arrangements for play dates with other children. The paper argues that there should be a focus on providing children in residential care with opportunities to be active agents in their everyday life, in the same way that is available to other children.

The findings from this paper should be treated with some caution for two reasons. First, it is based on limited excerpts from one case study from a wider study involving four case studies of children in residential care. The small sample creates the possibility of selection bias, and may not be representative of other children living in residential homes in Denmark.

Second, the study was conducted in Denmark, where children's residential care is very different to that in England (Petrie et al, 2006; Thoburn, 2007). Thus, there are limitations about the extent to which the findings can be extrapolated to other children in residential care in Denmark or England.


Related resources:

  • Supporting adolescents on the edge of care: The role of short term stays in residential care. An evidence scope. Jo Dixon, Jenny Lee, Sarah Ellison, Leslie Hicks, Action for Children and NSPCC, April 2015
  • The Place of Residential Care in the English Child Welfare System. Research report. Di Hart, Ivana La Valle, University of East London, and Lisa Holmes, Loughborough University, June 2015
  • Therapeutic approaches to social work in residential child care settings. Literature review. Geraldine Macdonald and Dr Sharon Millen, Institute of Child Care Research, Queens University Belfast. May 2012
  • "They helped me, they supported me" Achieving outcomes and value for money in secure children's homes. Justice Studio. April 2014
  • Our Lives Our Care: Looked after children's views on their well-being. Professor Julie Selwyn and Linda Briheim-Crookall, Univesrity of Bristol and Coram Voice, 2017

Related resources by Research in Practice:

  • Analysis and critical thinking in assessment 2nd Edition: Handbook
  • Reflective supervision: Change Project pilot resources
  • Regarding the use of practice observation methods as part of the assessment of social work practice: Evidence Scope
  • That difficult age: Developing a more effective response to risks in adolescence
  • Promoting resilience in children young people and families Frontline Briefing
  • Young person centred approaches in CSE: Promoting participation and building self efficacy: Frontline Briefing
  • Risk taking adolescents and child protection: Strategic Briefing
  • Children and young people missing from care and vulnerable to sexual exploitation: Strategic Briefing
  • RiP runs bespoke training workshops for residential children's home managers and practitioners. For more details contact vicki.giles@rip.org.uk

The research section for this special report is based on a selection of academic studies which have been explored and summarised by Research in Practice, part of the Dartington Hall Trust.

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