Managing Austerity: Emotional Containment in a Residential Children’s Home Under Threat

  • Brian Thomas Melaugh

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Health (DHealth)


The aim of the study was to explore the process and practice of leading change in residential child care and assess the efficacy of ‘emotional containment’ in this context. Residential child care in Ireland is experiencing significant change. Change is an emotional experience for staff and leadership is named as pivotal in organisational change. However, there is gap in the literature because leadership and organisational change theory does not fully fit with the relational nature of residential child care. The study is responding to this gap in literature and employs a qualitative case study to explore the impact of organisational change on residential child care, strategies used by leaders to manage the emotional impact of change and identify what practices support emotional containment. Central to the study was a nine-month observation of a child care organisation (Liffey View). Funding reductions in response to austerity emerged as the change event having the greatest impact, strategies to manage funding cuts (team restructuring, reductions in salary) evoked emotions of loss, despair and anger towards external funding bodies. In fact, austerity challenged the very survival of Liffey View Children’s home. The findings highlight how emotional containment supported the organisation to manage the impact of austerity. Containment is linked to the capacity of residential leaders to hold and work with emotion, providing structures (e.g. team meetings) that allow teams to make sense of emotion and finding ways to influence relationships with funding agencies. However, containment on its own is not sufficient to lead change, learning gained through containment needs to be linked to action and the theory of emotional containment is enhanced by integrating thinking from leadership and strategy. A framework integrating thinking from emotional containment and wider management theory is offered as a tool for leading change and for leadership development in residential child care.
Date of Award12 Oct 2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorDr David Wainwright (Supervisor), Dr David Wainwright (Supervisor) & Dr Maurice Devlin (Supervisor)


  • Austerity
  • organisational change
  • Emotional containment
  • psychodynamics

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