Academic journal article Child Welfare

Research Priorities for Residential Group Child Care

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Research Priorities for Residential Group Child Care

Article excerpt

Perhaps as no other sector of child welfare service, group child care is more often than not seen as the problem and not the solution. Whether it deserves the label "pariah care" offered by one of its most ardent and articulate defenders, the late Morris Fritz Mayer [1977], it is difficult to reject the analysis offered by another of the prolific contributors to the literature of group care, the late Martin Wolins:

Over the years the full-and part-time group care programs that have existed in this country have fallen into disuse...as professionals withdrew their approbation the programs deteriorated; innovation ceased, and cycles of predictions of bad results and their fulfillment, spiraled the programs downward. [1974: 1]

The reasons for this negative view are varied, ranging from the absence of hard indicators of successful long-term outcomes to inadequately developed models of residential group treatment, to high unit-service costs [Pecora et al. 1992]. Underlying these specifics is a deep and enduring skepticism about the "reformability" of institutions generally and, in particular, group care settings for children and youths. Underlying Jerome Miller's reforms in juvenile institutions in Massachusetts in the early 1970s and on through some of the current family preservation initiatives, is the belief that true system reform will not occur as long as a "placement" philosophy dominates service thinking. Hence any attempts to examine group child care seriously (other than perhaps documenting the abuses within it) are resisted for fear of promoting the service over other more family-centered and placement-preventive alternatives.

One consequence of this thinking is that money for pilot testing of new residential models, such as that provided by NIMH in earlier decades for Redl's work at Bethesda, Hobb's [1966, 1982] Project Re-ED and the Teaching Family Model (of group home care) has been extremely limited. This stands in contrast to such service innovations as family preservation and treatment foster care, where considerable investments have been made in recent years in program development, design of training technologies, development of evaluation protocols and dissemination strategies. We believe this lag in development of program innovation in group care must be understood because it has profound implications for the development of a group care research strategy that, conceptualized too narrowly, could end up with ever more elegant methodology examining the "best of the past."

This brief paper selectively reviews the growing body of research on developmental psychopathology and its implications for both the development of group care programming and evaluation; summarizes the existing corpus of outcome research on residential group care; and details a number of suggestions for group child care research that have implications for the individual practitioner, the individual residential agency, and policy and service organizations.

Reviewing the Existing Research Base

Research in Developmental Psychopathology: Implications for Residential Practice

Over the past 15 years, researchers have considerably illuminated our understanding of antisocial behavior and conduct disorder (CD), as well as the major normal syndromes of childhood and adolescence. Most investigators have adopted a developmental framework that is helpful in elucidating the dynamic interplay between normal and abnormal development, risk and protective factors, and the myriad environmental influences upon the child [Richters and Cicchetti 1993]. The developmental framework has yielded rich dividends, particularly in terms of conceptualizing new treatment and prevention efforts. Recent research has provided a fairly clear understanding of the predictors, concurrent correlates, sequelae, and family and social environments of CD [Pfeiffer 1994]. For example, investigators have found that children who evidence serious conduct problems also have a history of high levels of impulsivity, irritability, and inattention, and considerably more frequent and intense negative interaction with parents, peers, and teachers [e. …

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