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Selected Readarounds in Child and Youth Care

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The use of life space intervention in residential youth care

Gay Graham

While in Ireland there are relatively small numbers of children and young people in residential care those who remain in the system are increasingly challenging. These young people require focused, therapeutic, help to integrate their, often traumatic, experiences and to prepare them for independent living. Such work has been classified as therapeutic in the context of care work. Research has shown that residential care workers spend only three percent of their total working time on tasks classified as therapeutic (Graham 1994). It has also been empirically shown that residential care work is highly complex and that the content of care work can be described in a hierarchical role model containing three main categories with each category having three roles (Graham 1995). The complexity of the work makes it difficult for residential care workers to keep focused on the needs of their clients. A methodology developed by Fritz Redl (1959), referred to as Life Space Intervention, helps care workers to address the totality of the care task.

A group of committed people interested in improving standards of practice among those working with young people in residential settings in Ireland sought funding to develop a training pack on the use of Life Space Intervention. This training pack aims to demonstrate best practice in working with young people particularly in residential settings but is applicable to various settings in which social care work is undertaken.

The Aim and Objectives of the Training Pack



What is Life Space Intervention

Life Space Intervention is the therapeutic use of daily life events in residential or other settings in which social care workers share life space with clients. The methodology recognises the potential for communication with troubled young people that is provided through shared life experiences. Daily life events are exploited by the social care team to help the young people gain understanding of their life experiences. This understanding then becomes the foundation for intervention which aims to help the young person gain control over his/her environment and so to prepare him/her for independent living.

Life Space Intervention aims to intervene in two ways:

  1. Emotional First Aid on the Spot. This is a category of interventions which aims to aid the young person gain mastery of the tasks necessary for progression through the developmental stages of childhood and adolescence.
  2. Clinical Exploitation of Life Events. This category of interventions requires the social care practitioner to use opportunities that present in the daily life of the young person to help him/her to gain understanding of his/her behaviour in the context of past and present experiences and to prepare the young person for independent living.


Graham, Gay (1994). Residential Childcare: An Analysis of Activities and Tasks, and their Implications for the Organisational Design of Residential Child Care Units, Unpublished M.Litt Thesis, Trinity College, Dublin.

Graham, Gay (1996), 'The Roles of the Residential Careworker' in The Journal of the European Association of Training Centres for Socio-Educational Care Work 1.

Redl, F. (1959) 'Strategy and Techniques of the Life Space Interview'. American Journal of Orthopsychiatry: A Journal of Human Behaviour Vol. 29:1 No. 18.

Graham, G.(2003). The Use of Life Space Intervention in Residential Youth Care. European Journal of Social Education. pp. 33-34

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