Therapeutic residential care: An update on current issues in Australia

Therapeutic residential care: An update on current issues in Australia

Sara McLean

CFCA Paper No. 49 — September 2018
Image credit: © gettyimages/Steve Debenport


Therapeutic residential care is a relatively recent development in out-of-home care service provision for young people who are unable to be placed in family-based care. This paper provides an update on developments in therapeutic residential care, discusses the implications of these developments, and touches on further issues and dilemmas that should form the focus of research and practitioner partnerships in the future.

Key messages

Therapeutic residential care is a relatively recent development in service delivery for young people with complex care needs in out-of-home care.

There is emerging consensus about the effective elements of therapeutic residential care including: shared understanding of young people's needs; placement based on shared needs; therapeutic input tailored to needs; best possible connection to family and culture; and prioritising relationship-based work.

The Australian definition of therapeutic residential care reflects the unique aspects of therapeutic care service provision in this country.

Many Australian jurisdictions are adopting therapeutic residential care and this is now reflected in policy and practice documents in many jurisdictions.

Some Australian jurisdictions have begun to mandate minimum qualifications for residential care workers.

The operational features of therapeutic residential care services still need to be better understood.

Research focusing on aspects of the referral criteria, program elements and activities, and post-care activities is needed to better understand what makes therapeutic residential care effective.

Authors and Acknowledgements

Sara is a registered Psychologist and Adjunct Research Fellow at the Australian Centre for Child Protection. Sara has expertise in young people with developmental difference arising from early adversity, prenatal substance exposure, and interpersonal trauma and neglect. She synthesises emerging knowledge from the fields of neuropsychology; clinical and forensic psychology; and translates this knowledge into evidence-informed approaches to managing high stakes behaviour; and to supporting young people living in out-of-home care settings. Sara was awarded the ACU Linacre Fellowship at Oxford University in recognition of her work supporting young people in care.

The author would like to thank Laurel Downey and Howard Bath for their feedback and advice in writing this paper.

Cover image: © gettyimages/Steve Debenport

Publication details

CFCA Paper
No. 49
Published by the Australian Institute of Family Studies, September 2018.
23 pp.

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