Exploring the experiences of child and youth care workers in residential care through a constructive-developmental lens




Modlin, Heather

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Child and youth care workers in residential care provide support and intervention to young people who are experiencing difficulties in their lives. Caring for these young people can be complex and demanding and many child and youth care practitioners struggle to meet the challenges associated with their roles. Practice problems include volatile and punitive environments, inability of practitioners to safely manage young people’s threatening and aggressive behaviours, and staff turnover and burnout. These problems are often attributed to job stress, personal characteristics of practitioners, and lack of education, training, and professional development. To reconceptualise the aforementioned practice problems, Robert Kegan’s (1982) constructive-developmental theory was used as a theoretical framework to explore the experiences of child and youth care workers in residential care. The research was guided by 2 main questions: 1. How do different meaning-making systems influence how practitioners cope with and experience the demands of the job? 2. What role does the organizational environment play, if any, in mediating or exacerbating the demands of the job for practitioners with different meaning-making systems? An exploratory study was conducted using a mixed methods design. The study was conducted in two stages. First, 99 participants completed the Professional Quality of Life Scale (ProQOL), Work Environment Scale (WES), and Leadership Development Profile (LDP). Linear regression was conducted to explore the relationships between the ProQOL, LDP, and WES and most results were not significant. From the initial pool, 18 participants were selected for in-depth, qualitative interviews to assess their constructive-developmental orders – the ways in which they make meaning - and explore their experiences in residential care in the areas of job satisfaction and success, challenge, and coping with the demands of the job. The ways in which participants at different constructive-developmental orders experience and cope with the challenges of their jobs are described and themes are identified. There was internal coherence among participants of the same epistemological order and across organizations. This dissertation examines implications of the findings for child and youth care practice, education, training, supervision, research, and organizational management in residential care.



residential care, child and youth care workers, constructive-developmental theory, organizational culture, meaning making, holding environments