How developing a model has wider implications – practice, training and leadership.

It is no longer a question of whether a therapeutic residential child trauma provision has a model, but rather what is the model and how does it permeate through the organisation to maximise its potential for children, the staff and the whole.

A model can say a lot more about its organisation than its ‘practice and ethos’. In my experience it provides data on the organisation’s aspirations and vision; and commitment to the longevity and depth of the trauma work. How well the model is delivered provides data about the organisation’s determination and ability to train and support their staff accordingly. Perhaps as importantly, the chosen model and its level of successful integration and delivery can provide some insight into the style of leadership and the culture being developed.

Every Organisation will have a Primary Task whether this is known to the organisation or unconscious. This primary task should influence all inputs and preoccupation. The model chosen therefore to achieve the primary task needs to be congruent and effective i.e. fit for purpose.

If an organisation’s primary task is to help children heal from trauma, the model delivered needs to be underpinned by that research and theory which is considered most helpful. An organisation’s aspiration and vision can be thought about in the context of the model. The work needed to heal complex trauma is often time consuming, intensive and underpinned by academic and practical rigour and research. An organisation may well wish for (wouldn’t we all?) a quick and easy model, to heal the injuries inflicted upon children through complex trauma, but what might an organisation be communicating about their ability to contain and stay with the work if they act this out by choosing such a model?

Whilst it is still difficult to absolutely ‘prove’ what heals people, we do know that whatever the approach the relationship is still deemed pivotal. It makes sense then that a model or system’s effectiveness is determined by the capacity and ability, willingness and commitment of the staff to engage at a meaningful and emotional level with the children they form relationships with. I am suggesting therefore that the training and other ‘enriching and supportive’ practices for staff need to be as rigorous, effective and congruent as the model. Does the training mirror the model in its content, aspirations and vision?

Whilst some organisations will have somebody who has the knowledge and skill set to devise a model appropriate for their children and a matching training programme for their staff, it may well be futile if the leadership, the people holding the organisation at the top, are not congruent with what is developed. By this I refer to style of leadership and therapeutic management. As with therapeutic child care’ the phrase therapeutic management can be used extremely casually with broad and general meaning.

If a model claims to be humanistic, behaviourist, psychodynamic or analytic how does the leadership model embody this, and do they need to? Over the years of grappling with the concept of leadership within the context of psychodynamic practice, it would seem to me that to have the very theory that underpins the model and expectations of a staff team staff not embodied throughout the whole organisation, results in a fragmented organisation where relationships, activities and achievements do not compute, flow or basically help the primary task.

In my experience practice and business as in systems and dynamics, need to be in relationship. A relationship where there is appropriate tension and clear differentiation between the expectations of professional adults and traumatised children, but a relationship where the concept and practice of reflexivity, self -awareness, the ability to pause, empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard are evident in the board room as well as the therapy room, school or home.

I wonder about the impact on the fragmented or disintegrated child in both an organisation where one feels everything is in tune and congruent and one where the leadership and management contrasts with the model. Can there be a complimentary contrast or can the only outcome be splitting, scapegoating and disassociation?

Next time we enter a ‘therapeutic child care’ organisation perhaps it would be worth exploring the above as a means of gauging the potential growth and development outcomes for children, staff and the organisation as a whole…

Author: Debbie Rowlands, Practice Director, Timeout Children’s Homes Ltd

Refer a Child