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Professional Residential Child Care Practice - empirical investigations and theoretical conceptualization as social pedagogy informed expertise

Public examination of a doctoral dissertation in the field of Social Pedagogy

Doctoral candidate: MPolSc Eeva Timonen-Kallio

Date and venue: 15.11. at 12 noon, auditorium CA102, Canthia, Kuopio campus

Language of the public examination: English

Language of the dissertation: Finnish

Through critical discussion about the role and function of residential child care (RCC) and efforts by some countries to reduce its utilization, RCC continues to be an important setting and form of intervention for children and youth with multiple and complex needs. Nevertheless, there are concerns about RCC quality, which are directly linked to the (insufficient) training background and stability of the RCC workforce. Furthermore, in spite of increasing recognition of the need for upgrading quality in RCCs by professionalizing RCC practice, there are still mixed opinions in research on the influence of the professionalization of RCC on workers’ tasks and responsibilities as well as on their identity as care workers.

This dissertation examines what competencies are considered relevant for RCC. The focus is on the relationship between the ‘home-like care’ and ‘institutional upbringing’ working orientations in RCC practice, to construct the competence areas that RCC workers should master as professionals with own expertise and know-how. The first question in the study is what the ingredients of the RCC practice in a duality of home-like and institutional orientations are. The second question is related to the question of what the components of the professional practice implemented in the RCC context are. The third question reflects on what social pedagogy as a theoretical framework of educational work can offer to strengthen the knowledge base of the RCC practice. The theoretical aim is to develop the social pedagogy theory and social pedagogy-informed RCC expertise. The overall practical objective of the study is to strengthen professionalism in RCC by emphazing RCC as a unique context for delivering care and upbringing, as well as a key model of intervention in the provision of the child welfare system.

The dissertation consists of three empirical sub-studies exploring the components of professional residential child care and one conceptual article for modelling the social pedagogy framework for RCC. The three sub-studies are based on their own, unique datasets. The data consists of 1) a survey for RCC workers (n=122), 2) focus group interviews conducted in Finland (n=17), and 3) a set of interviews consisting of individual interviews, focus group interviews and joined focus group interviews (n=61) conducted by an international research group. The questionnaire and the collected interview material are analyzed as professional interventions, professional know-how and interprofessional collaboration. The fourth sub-study is a conceptual analysis, which complements empirical studies on the theory-based conceptualized model of RCC expertise.

The main result of this dissertation is, firstly, the conceptualization of duality in the aspirations of RCC practice in ‘home-like parenting’ and ‘institutional upbringing’ orientations, and secondly, the construction of these aspirations further as a professional entity; a social pedagogy-informed competence profile, the RCC Competence Fan, that captures and identifies the competencies for the RCC work function. The competence profile is an attempt to facilitate analyses and interpretations of RCC as a profession with its own expertise. The study suggests that the RCC Competence Fan may bridge the diversity of possible approaches in RCCs as an integrated framework, so that a similar understanding of professional intentions can be shared across a diverse workforce with different disciplinary traditions. Thirdly, three dimensions of a complex RCC context were found: 1. social pedagogy-related – interdisciplinary know-how; 2. home-like – institutional context, and 3. care – upbringing and education orientations. Together with the empirical results, the theoretical models provide a comprehensive framework for assessing and evaluating RCC workers’ professional competencies. The findings of this study are used to make suggestions for using the RCC Competence Fan in training practitioners for residential child protection institutions. Indeed, the theory-based competence profile can be promoted and transmitted through HEI training for strengthening the educational foundation and the interdisciplinary expertise in RCC.

The doctoral dissertation of MPolSc Eeva Timonen-Kallio, entitled Professional residential child care practice – empirical investigations and theoretical conceptualization as social pedagogy informed expertise, will be examined at the Faculty of Social Sciences and Business Studies. The opponent in the public examination will be Professor Maritta Törrönen of the University of Helsinki, and the custos will be Professor Juha Hämäläinen of the University of Eastern Finland.

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