Threshold concepts in residential child care: part 2, relational practice as threshold

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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. Similarly, there is near unanimity about the essential nature of relationships, particularly the relationship between practitioner and child, for good residential care. At the same time, theorization on how those relationships are enacted and how to support practitioners’ related development of practice is underdeveloped or even absent in some contexts. This second of a two-part paper discusses stage two of a two-stage, transatlantic study aimed at identifying and exploring threshold concepts in residential child care. 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. In stage one, relational practice was the most prominently discussed potential threshold concept in focus groups comprised of educators and practitioners who had studied, practiced and/or taught in the UK, Canada and/or the US. In stage two, in-depth individual interviews were carried out with practitioners around their threshold experiences of relational practice. Analysis found all five characteristics of threshold concepts reflected in the data, with a particular emphasis on the troublesome nature of relationship boundaries. A further theme around the relational nature of teaching and learning relational practice was identified, raising important parallels between the relational experiences practitioners have as part of their training, and their relational practice in the field. Implications are discussed, including the misfit between the demarcation of professional boundaries as applied by cognate fields and the actual requirements of ameliorative relationships in residential child care.
Original languageEnglish
Article number104825
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
Early online date7 Feb 2020
Publication statusPublished - 31 May 2020


  • relational practice
  • relationship-based practice
  • threshold concepts
  • residential child care
  • child and youth care
  • social work
  • praxis
  • relationship boundaries
  • professional boundaries


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