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Type: Thesis
Title: The challenging behaviour of children in the South Australian out-of-home care sector: stakeholders’ experiences with collaborative practice and their frameworks for managing behaviour.
Author: Mclean, Sara
Issue Date: 2010
School/Discipline: School of Psychology
Abstract: The research presented in this thesis was predicated on the need to improve service provision and care for children in out-of-home care. Although behavioural concerns are prevalent in this population, and frequently serve as the focus for interagency discussion, little is known about how the respective stakeholder groups in the out-of-home care sector understand and manage challenging behaviour. While the complexity of children’s needs necessitates effective collaboration between multiple services, relatively little theoretical or practical guidance exists about how this can be achieved, particularly in relation to supporting children with challenging behaviour. The long term significance of unaddressed behavioural issues for placement stability and educational outcomes provided the compelling impetus for this research. The research had two broad aims. First, to identify barriers to collaborative practice, using the specific example of stakeholders’ experiences in supporting young people in out-of-home care to resolve challenging behaviours. Second, to identify what accounts of behaviour are dominant amongst key stakeholders and further, to understand what these accounts might mean for the practice of collaboration and for the support provided to children in out-of-home care. Accordingly, this thesis reports a thematic analysis of the interviews of 92 South Australian stakeholders, representing five key stakeholder groups: foster carers, teachers, residential care workers, child mental health workers and child welfare caseworkers. Participants completed semi-structured interviews in which they were asked about their understanding of challenging behaviour and their experiences in working collaboratively with other stakeholders in order to support children. Thematic analysis of stakeholders’ experiences of collaboration confirmed several barriers previously suggested to be important, indicating the universal nature of these difficulties, irrespective of the population being serviced. Amongst the novel findings, however, was a pervasive ‘triangulation’ in children’s relationships, originating in systemic issues, which resulted in markedly diminished ability for caregivers and others to implement behavioural contingencies and work through conflict in relationship with the child. Stakeholder discourse about behaviour was then analysed in order to identify commonalities and points of divergence in understanding and approaches to behaviour. This analysis identified six ways in which behaviour was understood and confirmed the dominance of attachment conceptualisations in the out-of-home care sector. Accounts of behaviour as arising out of trauma appear to be under-represented amongst stakeholders. Discrepancies in stakeholders’ accounts were discussed, and implicit attributions of control and responsibility inherent in accounts were argued to provide a ‘way forward’ for stakeholders seeking a common understanding of behaviour. The concept of ‘attachment’ was found to be employed in ways that deviate from accepted theory, and the potential consequences for policy and practice of these ‘misrepresentations’ of attachment was highlighted. Finally, the discourse of one stakeholder group, residential care workers, was further analysed. These workers are frequently required to manage extremely challenging and difficult to control behaviour. Results provide the opportunity for those ‘outside’ the unit to understand the environmental and relationship context in which attempts to manage behaviour occur and the unique strains inherent in residential work. The policy and practice implications of the research are discussed.
Advisor: Delfabbro, Paul Howard
Kettler, Lisa Joy
Riggs, Damien Wayne
Dissertation Note: Thesis (Ph.D.) -- University of Adelaide, School of Psychology, 2010
Keywords: out-of-home care; behaviour; collaboration
Appears in Collections:Research Theses

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