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New practices for youth's residential care: promoting autonomy de-velopment


Background. In recent years, the awareness of long-term residential care effects has increased. According to the literature, child development may become impaired in residential settings, especially when institutionalization takes place in early childhood and occurs for long periods of time (e.g., Bullock, Little & Milham, 1993). In Portugal, issues have been raised regarding the definition and organization of long-term residential care for adolescents, since adjustment problems, impaired autonomy development and difficulties in the separation from the institution have been repeatedly reported.

Therefore, a series of issues have been raised regarding the definition and organization of residential care, and the types of services necessary to respond to the needs of adolescents who have a history of long-term institutionalization. We make reference to only a few of the recent studies in this area (e.g., Bullock et al. 1993; Casa, 1993; Valle, 1998), which point out several major weaknesses in services for institutionalized children/adolescents: 1) lack of discrimination in the service according to different types of situation, problem and age; 2) lack of focus on the specific needs of the child/adolescent; 3) inadequate dimension, architectural typology, and number of minors admitted in the residential units; 4) Non normalization (no common practices within/between services). Our methodology aims to address these weaknesses.

Indeed, the most prevalent residential care model in Portugal fosters experiences within "the institution walls", which strongly impacts interpersonal development, self identity and social integration after these adolescents reach adulthood. Moreover, it hinders the development of facilitative connexions for their social integration, as a source of social support at the time institutional care terminates. For these reasons, it is important to create a flexible mentoring structure during the period of transition from institutionalization to autonomous adult life.

Having these challenges in mind, a new service was design, based on a program system and an intervention methodology that are evaluated, in order to contribute to practice and policy changes, as is the purpose of this conference.


Purpose. This paper reports the design and evaluation methodology of a new service for long-term institutionalized adolescents.

The main goal of this service is the promotion of autonomous life skills, including the following specific goals: to promote emancipation skills; to develop and manage autonomy skills for an independent life management; to increase new ways of socialization; to support the integration in the wider community; to ensure physical and psychological well-being during the transition. In order to support the social integration of these youths, four autonomization residences were created.

The service was designed to match the needs of youth (16 years or older) in residential care for at least 3 years, defined as having inconsistent family support, but otherwise positive peer relationships and positive relations with other adults, and having a clear school trajectory and/or recent entrance in the work force.

Using an experimental research design, two groups of adolescents will be compared: 20 adolescents in the new residential units (10 females and 10 males, in separate units); and 20 adolescents in the current residential care.

The theoretical model of intervention is based on a social-cognitive and on an ecological perspective of human development. As aforementioned, the combination of these two approaches allow us to intervene at different levels: 1) directly in developmental context and in the social and tangible resources associated to the various domains of life; 2) at the level of the skills and the system of knowledge of the individuals (social-cognitive dimension of knowledge); and 3) in the strategies of anticipation, planning and self-regulation of events (daily and at median- or long-term); and 4) in the developmental goals of the individuals.


Key findings. All the groups will be evaluated through well-validated instruments at the beginning, during and after a 2-year intervention, in the following areas: time management; cognitive resources; motivation and learning; social resources; basic daily living skills; self-regulation (personal development; emotional regulation and integration in life story). Significant differences are expected among the groups regarding youth's autonomy skills, with higher scores for the new programs vs. existing service. This program constitutes a resource for the construction and development of an autonomous "life project" for the transition from the institution and integration in the community.


Key references

Bullock, R., Little, M., & Milham, S. (1993). Residential care for children. A review of the research. London: HMSO.

Casas, F., (1993). Changing paradigms in child residential care. III European congress on residential and foster care. Luneburg.

Valle, J., (1998). Manual de Programacion y evaluacion para los centros de proteccion a la infancia. Infancia. Junta de Castilla e León.


Contacts: A. Martins, Research Centre for Social Research and Intervention (CIS-ISCTE). Address: Edifico ISCTE, Av. das Forças Armadas. 1649-026 Lisboa. Portugal, Email: acmms@iscte.pt, Phone: 00351 217903079.


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