A residential assistant’s job is centered on the needs of people who require extra help to live a full life. They usually work in group homes, residential mental health facilities and substance abuse treatment centers, assisting residential supervisors with the care of children or adults who cannot live on their own or in a family situation. Preparing for a residential assistant career may begin with enrolling in a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology program.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that social and human service assistant employment is expected to grow much faster than the average occupation in the coming years. An increased demand for mental health and substance abuse treatment, as well as the expanding elderly population, will lead to job growth in this field.
Specific residential assistant job duties will likely depend on the type of group home and its residents. Their work includes providing services to clients to improve their well-being and quality of life. They may assess needs, assist with obtaining services and benefits, arrange for transportation, and help with personal hygiene and daily living tasks.
Observing and documenting clients’ behavior, physical condition and emotional development is a residential assistant’s duty. Some specialize in working with the elderly, children with special needs, persons with disabilities or at-risk youth.
Residential assistants live and work with their clients, and therefore are usually on call day and night. They may need to solve problems between residents or ensure their safety during outings and activities. Other duties include bathing and dressing residents, cooking meals, meeting with families and referring clients to social services.
Residential assistants typically work in private and publicly-funded group homes, including rehabilitation facilities and homes for developmentally challenged children and adults. Residential assistants are often part of a care team of supervisors, directors, and social workers. Because their work involves helping others in need, many residential assistants derive great satisfaction from their job.
According to the BLS, salaries for social and human service assistant can vary depending on where they are employed. Those working in residential mental retardation, mental health and substance abuse facilities had a median annual salary of $23,770 as of May 2009, with the middle 50% earning between $20,400 and $28,390. While the lowest 10% earned $17,550, the highest 10% made $33,360. Assistants working in nursing and residential care facilities had a median annual income of $24,430 in May 2009, with those in the middle 50% of the salary scale ranging between $20,730 and $29,730. The lowest 10% made about $17,730, while the highest 10% brought in approximately $36,070.
Bachelor’s degree holders will typically earn more than residential assistants with only an associate’s degree. They may also have opportunities to advance to supervisory positions as they gain experience.
Education and training requirements for residential assistant jobs vary by employer. Many prefer to hire candidates with a bachelor’s degree.
The first step for individuals interested in a residential assistant career can be a bachelor’s degree in applied psychology. Coursework typically includes introduction to psychology, lifespan development and psychology, learning and motivation, and social psychology.
An applied psychology education prepares graduates to:
Many agencies offer opportunities for continuing education. It’s possible to gain an entry-level job with a bachelor’s degree and use an employer’s tuition assistance program to pay for a master’s degree.
To be a successful resident assistant, you should be empathetic, sensitive, patient and mature. Solid communication, time management and leadership skills are also essential for this occupation, as is a desire to help others and advocate for their needs.