Michelle Cunningham's Story

Michelle Cunningham's Story

Michelle Cunningham carried out a study of behaviour management to support looked after children during her 2014 Fellowship.

The Fellowship

Michelle wanted to explore models of good practice for foster carers and colleagues working in children’s homes, enabling them to support children and young people through reducing aggressive incidents and building restorative practice behaviours.

During her five-week Fellowship, she visited four organisations working in America’s welfare system: Waterford Country School in Connecticut, NY Foundling, Learning Springs and Good Shepherd Services based in New York City.

Michelle was particularly interested by Waterford’s successful use of the CARE (Children and Residential Experiences) behaviour support programme, and by Good Shepherd’s Sanctuary principles model. Both practiced self-care with staff and young people, empowering staff and young people to have a voice and leading to a reduction in aggressive incidents.

The Results

Michelle’s Fellowship research demonstrated that therapeutic and principle-based models could strengthen staff practice, enabling better relationships between staff and young people through a greater understanding of trauma and attachment disorders. These models can help to tackle the underlying issues that cause violent incidents, further reducing the need for restraints. In addition they can help staff to distinguish between their parental instincts and organisational practices and ensure that young people are supported to develop and grow within a stable and nurturing environment.

Michelle has since developed training courses for residential staff and foster carers incorporating some key principles taken from both the CARE and Sanctuary models such as neurobiology, attachment and trauma research. She also helped to design the Leeds Workforce Development Service Behaviour Support Programme’s five-year strategic plan, which includes working with a principle-based model.

In November 2016 there will be a Residential Service Conference looking at elements of the principle-based models Michelle witnessed on her Fellowship such as developing SELF care and exploring ways to build on staff resilience.

Read more Fellows' Stories in Early Years Prevention & Intervention