The Workforce

Being a relational residential worker

Looking for ways to be more relational in residential care? This guide will offer you an insight and suggest some first steps into the direction of becoming a relational residential worker.

Being relational is an on-going process of building a person's capacity, supporting another person in their growth and well-being, to nurture 'well' relationships and effect change in relationships when needed. A relational approach is strongly advocated and endorsed by the Staying Put Scotland guidance (Scottish Government 2013). In which there is a clear call for positive relationships to continue and support young people transitioning out of care. It is often the case in residential care that workers are not permitted to continue relationships with young people beyond their placements – although there is good reasoning for this, it can mean trusting relationships are hard to obtain for young people with too many workers and not enough relationships present in their life. This is why relationship-based practice requires both procedural and cultural changes to take place within the care sector. Still, there are some things we can do as individual to foster better relational-practice.

What do young people need in residential care? It is no different from what all young people require to grow up well-rounded and happy, such as:

  • Affection
  • Understanding
  • Stability
  • Trusting relationships
  • Attention
  • Safety
  • Support
  • Honesty
  • Compassion

It is not always easy to convey these things to a young person in residential care and they are not easy to measure. It may also be a challenge for some of these things to be shown due to organisational barriers. You may not always be honest with young people, or you may not be able to show them physical affection – being honest about your boundaries and limitations are important because if we create an expectation and do not, or cannot deliver, we risk losing trust and respect from young people.

Becoming relational in your practice not only involves you, but also your team. Other guides in the ‘relational organisation’ category can help you transform the service beyond your individual actions. Importantly you should reflect with colleagues on your current practice. What beliefs and assumptions or theory is it build on?

You might also find it interesting to learn about practice from elsewhere. Below is he relational model, which can be a good starting point for relational practice.

Developing relationships:

  • Building Relationships - Developing safety, security and trust through protection, connection, understanding and care
  • Supporting Inclusion - Facilitating access to learning, ensuring social inclusion and developing individual skills
  • Setting Boundaries - Reaching agreements and building a shared understanding of expectations.
  • Establishing clear processes - for resolving difficulties.
  • Responding and calming:
  • Keeping Calm - Using everyday interactions to maintain relationships and agreements and promote a calm and supportive learning environment
  • Regulating Emotions - Using key relational skills to regulate strong emotions and calm behaviour
  • Managing Crisis - Having clear plans to ensure safety and support.

Repairing and restoring:

  • Resolving Conflict - Everyday restorative interactions to resolve minor conflict and disagreements and create a shared understanding.
  • Repairing Harm -Restorative encounters to discuss the breaking of agreements, the impact (consequences) on others and to restore relationships.
  • Supporting Change: What additional support / action is needed?

You can read more on a relation-approach here.

You can also read more on relational approaches through the Scottish governments better relationships, better learning policy guidance here.

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