Reclaiming complexity : beneath the surface in residential child care

Furnivall, Judith (2018) Reclaiming complexity : beneath the surface in residential child care. Journal of Social Work Practice, 32 (4). pp. 373-390. ISSN 1465-3885 (

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Residential child care is an inherently distressing and multi-layered endeavour undertaken by staff who are often poorly trained and supported. In addition, the children, and the adults who care for them, can provide a convenient receptacle for the split off negative feelings of professionals, politicians and the public. The complexity and difficulty of this work is often unrecognised and a simplistic response based on a programmatic, behavioural framework, reinforced by performance-based management and an audit culture, is common. This paper argues for the usefulness of a different approach, drawing on psychoanalytic and open systems thinking, to provide a more nuanced understanding of what is happening in these volatile settings that can guide interventions which match the complexity of the work. Alongside advocating the use of key psychoanalytic and systems concepts to improve understanding, it argues for the importance of providing a containing and reflective environment for staff.