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Changing paradigms in residential services for disturbed/disturbing children: retrospect and prospect

James Whittaker and Anthony Maluccio

These events in the history of group child care appear to cluster in four phases:First was a period of physical separation that sought to extricate dependent, delinquent, and "defective" children from indiscriminate mixing in almshouses, workhouses, jails, and the like, and provide a separate set of institutions specifically for their use (Whittaker 1971a).

Next was a move from congregate to cottage care, begun in the late 19th century, which sought to replace cold, barracks-style institutions with smaller, family-style units staffed by houseparents. Although the intent of this movement was clear, the resulting cottage (sometimes containing 25-plus children) was often quite large by today's standards, yet it maintained at least some semblance of a family-like atmosphere.

The psychological phase begun in the early part of the 20th century sought to transfer the central organizational and treatment concepts of the emergent child guidance movement to the institution (Whittaker 1971b). These included use of psychological tests, the psychiatric team concept, and the delineation of child care and child treatment functions. Later, the pioneering work of Hershel Alt, Bruno Bettelhiem, Fritz Redl and others in the late 1940s and early 1950s developed various psychoanalytically grounded expressions of the therapeutic milieu with much more attention to factors like group dynamics and a much greater focus on child care staff members as primary agents of treatment.

 Finally, what might be called the ecological or environmental phase was stimulated at least partly by an increasing corpus of outcome evaluations (reviewed briefly later) that showed that differences in treatment outcome were more related to factors like presence or absence of postplacement community supports than to factors like caseworker judgment, degree of success achieved in program, treatment model, or severity of presenting problems (Whittaker and Pecora 1984). These findings, as well as the broader policy thrust towards deinstitutionalization and service normalization, forced the attention of residential programs from an almost total preoccupation with what went on inside the milieu to such external factors as development of community linkages, family work, and aftercare. Also contributing to this trend were natural environmental interventions by applied behavior analysts and psychoeducators that boldly moved treatment from the clinic to the client's own milieu (Hawkins et al. 1966; Risley and Wolf 1966; Tharp and Wetzel 1969; Rhodes 1967; Hobbs 1966).

Whittaker, J.K., & Maluccio, A.N (1989). Changing paradigms in residential services for disturbed/disturbing children: retrospect and prospect.
In Hawkins, R., & Breiling, J. (Eds.) Therapeutic foster care: critical issues. Washington: Child Welfare League of America. pp. 88-89

References
Hawkins, R.P., Peterson, R.F., Schweid, E., & Bijou, S.W. (1966). Behaviour therapy in the home: amelioration of problem parent-child relationships with the parent in the therapeutic role. Journal of Experimental Child Psychology 4: 99-107
Hobbs, N. (1966). Helping disturbed children: psychological and ecological strategies. American Psychologist 21:1105-1151
Risley, J.R., & Wolf, M.M. (1966). Experimental manipulation of autistic behaviours and generalisation in the home. In Control of human behaviour. Vol.1, edited by R. Ulrich, J. Stachnik, & J. Mabry, 193-198. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.
Rhodes, W.C. (1967). The disturbing child: A problem of ecological management. Exceptional Children 33: 449-455
Tharp, R.G., & Wetzel, R.J. (1969). Behaviour modification in the natural environment. New York: Academic Press
Whittaker, J.K. (1971a). Colonial child care institutions: Our heritage of care. Child Welfare 50: 396-400
Whittaker, J.K. (1971b). Mental hygiene influences in children's institutions: Organisation and technology for treatment. Mental Hygiene 55: 444-450
Whittaker, J.K. & Pecora, P. (1984). A research agenda for residential care. In Group Care Practice: The challenge of the next decade, edited by J. Philpot, 71-87. Surrey: UK: Community Care/ Business Press International 

 

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