What’s Love Got to Do With it? – Love in Residential child care by Niamh Miller
My own experiences of working in residential child care have led me to develop a keen interest in the dynamics of a worker’s relationship with a young person. At Nether Johnstone House, the concept of love is incorporated in all aspects of our practice. By utilising a relationship-based approach to inform our practice, we enable meaningful attachments to be made on a daily basis. Love is an extremely complex emotion that has been studied over the years by multiple psychologists. The word love is often associated with romantic relationships and can often have sexual connotations; therefore, it is scarcely used within professional relationships. Loving relationships are vital to establishing positive emotional wellbeing as humans. Strong connections between two humans help navigate our stressors, solve problems and overcome any challenges that we are faced with. For children and young people who have experienced significant trauma, experiencing love is even more vitally important.
Children growing up cared for away from their families, do not need rules about love as love should not be restricted. What is most important is that children of all backgrounds are loved and feel loved. Children and young people who grow up looked after away from home deserve love in the same way that all children do. Love is an intrinsic part of warm and caring relationships which allows children to learn who they are whilst feeling safe and secure.
At Nether Johnstone House, we continue to use the teachings produced by the Independent Care Review to inform our practice. As a team we are committed to challenging the currently fractured, bureaucratic, stigmatising system that disregards children the opportunity to experience and commit to loving relationships.
It has always been feared that residential child care could not provide strong enough attachment opportunities or the experience of permanence for children (Milligan, 1998). After having several discussions with our young people, it is evident that not only do they feel loved by the team at Nether Johnstone House they also show an ability to love in an authentic safe way. I believe that this challenges the ambivalence towards residential child care that is present in social work thinking.
“Working at NJH relationships are at the centre of our thinking. Not only do we build great relationships with our young people for them to gain our trust we also put effort into having positive relationships in our staff team. As a whole I believe we are more like a family.” – Kayrie Docherty, RCCW.
Residential workers have been identified on many occasions to put much more focus into safe-guarding children and fulfilling their basic needs due to working in an institutionalised setting. In my experience the carers at Nether Johnstone House are consistent, available and responsive when caring for our young people. They show an ability to attune and respond to their needs at times where our young people feel unable to work through the chaotic challenges they are faced with. Working in the life space is what carers in residential do on a day by day, shift by shift, minute by minute basis. It involves the use of everyday events to promote growth, development and learning. Life space working enables carers to take on a ‘parenting’ role using daily tasks as a therapeutic way to intervene and make positive changes.
“I have worked at NJH for over 7 years, throughout my time there has been many challenges however the powerful relationships that exist have guided us through. The young people are supported in a nurturing environment that enables them to love in a safe way.”
Paul Young, RCCW
When children talk about feeling safe they often do it through the mode of their significant relationships that are present in their lives. Feeling loved is how children learn who they are and gives them the capacity to inevitably love themselves and others. There are many barriers identified to love for the children growing up in care. With the purposeful opportunities that are created by the team at Nether Johnstone House, in this setting we hope that all of our children feel loved. It is essential that as a work force we continue to challenge the stigma that exists and change public perceptions of the residential setting. It is important that we accept love matters and that we have a responsibility to ensure it is fundamental in the lives of all children and young people.