Practicing Silence about Staff Violence in Residential Care for Children with Disabilities


  • Friederike Lorenz Freie Universität Berlin


This article analyzes the practice of silence about staff violence in educational institutions. It examines a team that, for many years, legitimized its use of violence against children with disabilities in residential care by declaring it to be a “therapy” based on a behavioral concept. Qualitative methods were used to evaluate 18 narrative interviews with staff from the organization, two expert interviews with the public authorities, the team’s own daily documentation, and the behavioral group concept. Interpretations are based on a heuristic addressing the phenomenon of silence, its social functions, and its forms. Results show how silence about violence was practiced within the professionals’ speech and documentation. Institutional conditions and professional terminology were misused as a legitimizing frame to conceal child maltreatment. A behavioral group concept enabled a team of professionals to develop a self-narration about its actions in which their use of violence was coded among them and disguised from other staff and the resident’s parents. Finally, findings show that silencing staff violence in routinized practices may well continue in organizations even after its disclosure.






Special Issue: "Child Maltreatment, Child Protection and Child Well-being"