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38 MARCH 2002
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in a nutshell

Shift in group care

Henry Maier

Recently Leanne Rose challenged me with an astute question, ďWhat do I see as some of the major shifts in thinking in our fields (if any), and where might we be stuck?". Thank you, Leanne. This provides me with a platform to expound on some major concerns of mine!

I think there is a decisive shift in the overall attitude, from one of rescuing children to one of verifying our competence in achieving our behavioral objectives for them. (Let me insert here that Iím speaking loosely about my personal experiences and impressions. I donít have any concrete data to fortify my comments.)

When I became active in the field the classical literature of the time included Fritz Redlís Controls From Within, Eva Burmeisterís illustrative publications, as well as Bruno Bettelheimís Love is Not Enough. These leaders advocated that residential care and treatment be as impactful as the life encountered by young people in everyday communal family life. The goal of Residential Treatment was to assure a wholesome renewed life experience emerging out of the work of supporting, highly motivated, caring service providers in a pleasant sheltered setting.

Today the shift has been to the highlighting of concrete data and the accounting of the care providers' range of interventive activities. What once was a potpourri of daily life experience is now a balance sheet of behavior interventions and an account of the residents' progression within the blueprint of service. Basically the shift has been from the wholesome emphasis on the residents' lives, to that of the caregivers' competence in service provisions. In short, the shift has been from care providers being partners in the residents' life experiences to their emergence as diligent bureaucratic service deliverers. My concern is that we are stuck in glorifying the caregivers' competence and overall control.

In other words, residential work and programs seem to be no longer opportunities for eager professionally-minded pioneers, but for bureaucratically-oriented employees, as well as administrators and their consultants, in their quest for the badly needed funds. Most of these shifts I see as an outgrowth of the administrative desire to win favors for an assumed scientific stance in place of a personal adventure of serving those in urgent need. This is well-evidenced in current literature that is weighted by confirming research data in place of accounts of the residents' personal experiences in care. Does our work need to be driven by skimpy research in order to assure us the necessary dollars?


Bettelheim, B. (1950). Love is not enough. New York: Free Press.

Burmeister, E. (1960). The professional houseparent. New York: Columbia University Press.

Redl, F. & Wineman, D. (1952). Controls from within: Techniques for the treatment of the aggressive child. New York: Free Press.

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