Hogeschool Leiden

Living group climate research

Children, adolescents and adults in residential (forensic) institutions and children in schools for special education in secure institutions spend a large part of their day in their living group group or department or classroom. This means that in addition to therapies and training, the perception of the climate at these living group (living group climate) is also important, or maybe the key, for their development. Group climate has recently been defined as “the quality of the social- and physical environment in terms of the provision of sufficient and necessary conditions for physical and mental health, well-being and personal growth of the residents, with respect for their human dignity and human rights as well as (if not restricted by judicial measures) their personal autonomy, aimed at successful participation in society” (Stams & Van der Helm, 2017).    

Within this social group the perception of individual responsibility, equality in communication, addressing each other about behavior in a positive manner, pursuit of individual growth, respect for each other and experimental space for the inmates are important for future rehabilitation. Research has shown that an open living group climate contributes to a reduction in the number of incidents involving aggression (Ros, Van der Helm, Wissink, Stams, & Schaftenaar, 2013). In addition, an open living group climate can also contribute to increased treatment motivation, positive treatment results, more empathy, an internal locus of control, less aggression and bullying and more emotional stability amongst children and adult patients (Van der Helm et al., 2011a; Van der Helm et al., 2009; Van der Helm, Stams, Genabeek, & Van der Laan, 2012; Van der Helm, Stams, van der Stel, Van Langen, & Van der Laan, 2011c; Wilson & Lipsey, 2007, for a complete overview see: Soeverein, Van der Helm, & Stams, 2013).

The Group Climate Instrument (GCI) was developed to measure the living group climate and different aspects of the living group climate (Van der Helm, Stams, & Van der Laan, 2011) and is proven to be valid in other settings than correlational institutions as well. Different versions of this tool have now been developed for different age groups as a result of which the GCI can be used for all age groups and also for children with Mental Disabilities. 

The instrument has been translated and validated into 12 other languages and can be used to assess climate quality. Measuring climate quality repeatedly and giving feedback to professionals working with these children has been shown to improve the social climate but also to increase treatment motivation and empathy and diminish criminal cognitions which can facilitate return to society.

In the context of the living group climate research, several in-depth studies are being conducted, for instance into the repression element, differences between boys and girls, mutual influencing, the impact of ethnicity but also into Children’s rights in secure youth care centers.