Academic journal article Child Welfare

A Social Pedagogy Approach to Residential Care: Balancing Education and Placement in the Development of an Innovative Child Welfare Residential Program in Ontario, Canada

Academic journal article Child Welfare

A Social Pedagogy Approach to Residential Care: Balancing Education and Placement in the Development of an Innovative Child Welfare Residential Program in Ontario, Canada

Article excerpt

This paper chronicles the exploration and development of a residential program of the child welfare authority of Renfrew County in Ontario, Canada. Recognizing that virtually its entire population of youth in care was failing to achieve positive outcomes in education, Renfrew County Family and Children Services embarked on a program development process that included many unique elements within the Ontario child welfare context. This process introduced the theoretical framework of social pedagogy to the provision of residential care, and it replaced the idea of psychotherapy as the primary agent of change for youth with the concept of living and learning. The result is a template for the Ottawa River Academy, a living and learning program for youth in care that exemplifies the possibilities embedded in creative thought, attention to research and evidence, and a preparedness to transcend traditional assumptions with respect to service designs and business models for residential care in child welfare.

Over the course of the 20th Century, Ontario's residential care system evolved from its faith-based, charitable roots to its current multisectoral, community-based infrastructure (Grant oc Gabor, n.d.). In spite of positive developments in terms of deinstitutionalization, the system is also associated with very negative experiences for children and youth, particularly in the context of the residential school system in place for aboriginal children and youth until the mid-1970s (Grant, 1996; Miller, 2006). While family-based residential care (foster care) in Ontario continues to be seen as an effective way of caring for children and youth (Baker, Kurland, Curtis, Alexander, &. Papa-Lentini, 2007; Cross, Leavey, Mosley, White, &. Andreas, 2004; Reilly, 2003), group care is being increasingly associated with poor outcomes and potentially destructive experiences for children and youth (Finlay, 2007; Lee & Barth, 2009; Ministry of Children and Youth Services [MCYS], 2007).

Education outcomes for youth in care across Ontario mirror those in other jurisdictions, including the United States (Roper, 2008). Research has confirmed repeatedly that the complex profile of youth in care is inadequately addressed within mainstream education (Manser, 2007; Ontario Association of Children's Aid Societies [OACAS], 2006, 2008; Reid & Dudding, 2006; Trout, Hagaman, Casey, Reid, &. Epstein, 2008; Tweedle, 2007), in spite of multiple provincial initiatives to address the problems of at-risk youth within schools at all levels (Gitterman 6c Young, 2007; Zegarac 6c Franz, 2007).

This paper chronicles the exploration and development of an innovative residential program on the part of Renfrew County Family and Children Services (FCS), a child welfare authority in a semirural county in Eastern Ontario. The project originated from concern within the agency that virtually the entire youth in care population was achieving poor educational outcomes. Particularly concerning were the educational outcomes for youth (ages 12 to 18) placed in privately operated group homes (n - 40).

In response, Renfrew County FCS embarked on a journey of program development that provides some insight into current challenges and possible solutions for child welfare agencies throughout the province and perhaps even in other North American jurisdictions. This paper focuses on four major elements of the program development process:

(1) What started off as an action-oriented attempt to intervene in poor outcomes for children and youth ended up as a profound paradigm shift within Ontario-based child welfare approaches to residential care. Perhaps the most notable outcome of the initiative of Renfrew County FCS with respect to residential care is the incorporation of the principles of social pedagogy into the design and operation of residential care in a Canadian context.

(2) In spite of the agency being a small, semirural child welfare authority, the program model pursued is substantial and responsive to the needs of not only the local agency but a much larger geographic region; in this sense, the approach taken by Renfrew County FCS has significantly transcended traditional limitations in cross -regional child welfare collaborations in Ontario. …

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