Threshold concepts in residential child care: part 1, the selves of learners and their praxis

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Despite growing international consensus around the complex and demanding nature of residential child care for children and young people, consensus is lacking around how to develop a workforce equal to the task. Threshold concept theory casts a light on related issues of training and education and offers direction in addressing them. Threshold concepts are central concepts in a given discipline which are transformative but troublesome for many. They are important to their given discipline because they shape thinking and practice, but they are often difficult to master. This first of a two-part paper discusses the first of a two-stage, transatlantic study aimed at identifying and exploring threshold concepts in residential child care. Using focus groups and individual interviews with participants who had studied, practiced and/or taught in the UK, Canada or the US, it explored the views and experiences of educators who have contributed to knowledge production in the field, as well as front-line practitioners who have completed a dedicated course in child and youth care, residential child care or therapeutic child care. Findings included unanimous agreement about the relevance of threshold concept theory to their experiences and strong support for its utility in considering how curricula should be taught. There was a greater degree of commonality than divergence between educator and practitioner views about what might be threshold, with relational practice the most prominently discussed. A theme around the self of the learner was identified in discussions of threshold concept theory more generally, particularly across the educator focus groups. Implications for pedagogical practice are discussed, including the concept of praxis which provides a useful counterpoint for conceptualising the relationship between threshold concept theory and the use of self in practice, especially in fields where the self is a primary instrument of the work.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104594
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Early online date4 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 4 May 2020


  • residential child care
  • threshold concepts
  • use of self
  • relational practice
  • relationship boundaries
  • praxis


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