Residential Care, Staff-Client Relationships

Quality of Staff -Client Relationships Impact Client Outcomes

Practitioners in the out-of-home care (OoHC) and youth justice (YJ) programs often state that their work is ‘all about relationships’, meaning  that a positive staff-client relationship is a necessary first step in achieving outcomes with the client.

A recent Portuguese study adds to the body of evidence suggesting that this is in in fact the case.

The aims of the research

The study aims to test the predictive effect of the quality of relationships of institutional staff and teachers on the development of resilience and a reduction in deviant behaviour in institutionalised adolescents. In this context ‘institutionalised’ adolescents refers to young people who are in residential care because of issues of abandonment, parental neglect and/or family socio-economic conditions. It excludes adolescents who were institutionalised because of mental health issues including conduct disorders and substance abuse.

The target population

The study included 202 young people aged between 12 and 18 years. 41% had been in residential care for between six  months and three years whilst  45% were in residential care for between three and ten years. Females accounted for 54.5% of the population.

Key findings

The study found that the quality of relationships with significant figures (i.e. teachers and caregivers) is negatively associated with the development of deviant behaviours and positively with the development of resilience.

This implies that young people were less likely to exhibit deviant behaviours such as addictive self-destructive behaviour, stealing and violence generally when they reported a positive relationship with staff. Moreover young people reported increased perseverance, self-trust and a sense of life when they likewise had a positive relationship with staff.

Issues with the study

As the authors note, the problems with this study is that it is cross-sectional in design and reliant on self-report by young people. This means that we cannot be sure of the direction of the relationship between positive outcomes and quality of relationships.

Take outs for Practitioners

  • The study provides a summary of the current research on the impact of relationships on pro-social outcomes for YP in OoHC and YJ.
  • The results are applicable to all Practitioners, be they teachers, residential care workers, youth justice workers (community and detention centre programs) and foster carers.
  • Perhaps a more interesting question is “what type of attributes in staff/teachers lead to more positive relationships with clients and, subsequently, result in improved outcomes for clients?” I will attempt to address this issue in future blogs.


Mota, C. P., et al. (2016). “Resilience and Deviant Behavior Among Institutionalized Adolescents: The Relationship with Significant Adults.” Child & Adolescent Social Work Journal 33(4): 313-325.


About graemembaird

I am a psychologist with a special interest in improving the outcomes of families, children and young people in the Out of Home Care and Juvenile Justice systems.
View all posts by graemembaird →

Leave a Reply