Thursday, 22 August 2013

Resilience in Residential Childcare and Fostering

If our work is somehow walking alongside the child as they explore their inner world (Bowlby’s “companion for exploration”) then we need to be as well-equipped as we can be. However, at this point we need to acknowledge a difficulty. Training and personal development programmes should provide the skills and knowledge to do the task (the explorers’ tools), but the hard emotional labour of looking after our young people also requires some personal qualities. This is the “stuff” of explorers that is beyond any training programme. This “stuff” includes a deep emotional pool on which to draw; ability to step outside the immediate feelings brought up by the child’s difficulties; insight to see their behaviour for what it is...communication; and capacity to come back in the face of repeated rejections (“stickability” and “bouncebackability”). These qualities (there are undoubtedly others) might be referred to as resilience. Resilience is usually thought of as having three layers. First there is an inner layer of personal qualities and inner strengths, including a secure sense of our own identity, healthy self-esteem, belief in our ability to influence the world, and beliefs and experiences of success. As adults, this is largely our own “stuff”; our own individual responsibility, and we cannot reasonably look outside ourselves to be given these things. We have acquired them, to a greater or lesser degree, as part of the trajectory of our own lives. Those of you interested in attachment theory will no doubt reflect on the role that a secure childhood attachment can play in providing the foundation for this. Resilience is not just these personal qualities, it is also produced and supported by the connections we have to other people. In other words, an individual’s capacity to “stick with it” and to “bounce back” depends in part on their character and in part on their network of close and supportive others (families and friends). It is a sad fact that the anti-social hours of the work can take its toll on our families and friends, but knowing this can encourage us to work hard enough to maintain these much needed connections. The third layer of resilience is usually called community. This is the degree to which we are connected to something wider than our immediate supportive circle, the way we feel we have a place in the world and feel that we belong, that we have a purpose and are fulfilled by our daily lives. It is important that we connect with our own work community and with communities beyond our own work place. This is in part the stuff of the therapeutic community, but it is also the stuff of teams, of working together, of integrating and sharing with colleagues from different disciplines, and the stuff of looking outside our own organisation to the wider community of childcare (a helpful social worker, a conference, journals and magazines, web-discussion forums, and so on, all connect us to the wider community, even, perhaps, helpful blogs). It is also management structures, supervision, mentoring, buddying systems and formal and informal networks of colleagues. It’s worth mentioning here that, as well as receiving support and developing our resilience in these community contacts, we are also there to provide support and sustain the resilience of others in these communities (that’s what a community is) and to be as ready to give support as we are to need it. Perhaps these are rare things, although I see them daily in the people around me in my own organisation. If you know people with this “stuff”, and they like children and want an interesting and varied career, perhaps you should think about recruiting them to a fascinating and rewarding career. If you see gaps in this stuff in yourself or in your colleagues (and gaps will appear for none of us is unbreakable) then perhaps you could think about how to help.

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