Transcript: Keeping an eye on the child

Key Capabilities and students as leaders in multidisciplinary contexts.

Podcast Episode: Keeping an eye on the child

Category: Social work (general) 


What follows is a transcription of the audio recording. Due to differences between spoken and written English, the transcript may contain quirks of grammar and syntax.

BD - Brigid Daniel

It is really nice to see so many familiar faces, to see colleagues, people who work with us on the courses, previous students, and obviously this is a really rich group of folk and you really enjoy getting together. I did say at one point - why bring people in from the foyer, you are obviously having such a good time just talking to each other. So, but anyway I am just going to cover just a few small topics - leadership, multidisciplinary practice, practice learning. You have managed to pack all the sort of big concepts into one topic for your conference today.

It is very timely actually, because I don’t know if any of you have been following some of the debates that have been going around in England at the moment - there has been quite a string going on, on the JUC SWAC (spelt phonetically) circulation. There are some quite concerning proposals about Social Work education, particularly around having another sort of fast track, quick step up to Social Work programme, with the aspiration of bringing in more high fliers into Social Work. But again, the discourse is completely premised on the basis that what we do at the moment is no good - and that is what is really concerning. And that is a debate that is happening in England, but all of these kind of debates do filter up and we need to keep an eye on it. I actually think what we do in Scotland is still very robust and very effective, and a lot of that is to do with the close relationships we have, I think, between the HEI’s and field, and we are really keen to keep that and to not let anyone erode that around us.

So in thinking about the big topics - leadership, if we start with that. I mean thinking about what is happening at the moment in the field is we are looking at an increasingly multidisciplinary context, there is no doubt about that. That is being imposed and that is developing across a range of settings. It does raise a lot of questions about who is leading what, to what aims though. When you have got different disciplines working together, when you have got different agencies working together, they have different outcomes they are aiming for, they have different budgetary constraints and they are, not always, necessarily leading in the same direction. So part of the challenge in thinking about leadership within a multidisciplinary context is “who is leading whom?” - and indeed the other question is “who is following if everybody is leading?” And I think with the discourse at the moment that we are all leaders, it does read questions “well is anybody following anyone else?” So some of that language becomes a bit loose, I think “we are all leaders” - don’t know really what that means unless we are really clear that actually we would like, even if we are all leading, to be travelling at least in roughly the same direction on some occasions. And that is quite a challenge when we are thinking about the multidisciplinary context.

Social Work students, in particular, I think are in a very interesting position, because they are kind of being led from a number of different directions, from HEI’s, practice educators, their peers, practitioners, managers, they may also be … well most of them are working, some of them are working two other different jobs as well as doing their course. So they are having to sort of navigate through a number of different arena’s where people are leading them or attempting to lead them in particular directions. But increasingly I see Social Work students also being in the position where they can exercise leadership. They bring new ideas, they bring up to date evidence … well if we have got anything to do with it they do, we try and make them read something, and they bring a fresh look at theory to practice settings. So Social Work students are in a very strong position to exercise leadership, and that is the sort of underpinning premise, I think, of what I was going to talk about, in particular in relation to the Key Capabilities - but much, much more broadly than that. And I think the more we can encourage and support the students to do that leadership role, the better for our future workforce as well.

So thinking about the Key Capabilities - well I was reflecting, I suppose, on my own kind of personal journey in relation to key capabilities, because some of you will know that when the Key Capabilities were first suggested, I was at Dundee University as a Professor of Childcare and Protection then, so my role was very specifically focused around child protection. And I led the project that developed the Key Capabilities, along with what was then SIESWE, which has now become Iriss, and Margaret Bruce and Helen Whincup worked on that project. And that was a complex project, but I thought it was good thing, otherwise I wouldn’t have done it - and I was actually really proud of the work that we were doing. But we got a hell of a lot of flak, I have to say, while we were developing that. It was hard, particularly from quite a few colleagues in HEI institutes - there was a lot of anxiety about yet another set of competencies, an over-focus on children and child protection - there were lots and lots of complexities in that project, but it was a really interesting project to work on. Then I came to Stirling University, and the first job I was given by my then boss, Gerry Rowlings, was to embed the Key Capabilities in the Social Work course at Stirling. And I looked at them and I thought “oh my God, who on earth wrote these - this is so difficult”. And I was emailing Helen and Margaret and saying “what on earth were we playing at”? So it was very interesting to suddenly be on this other side of the counter, of actually trying to embed what I thought were really sensible things into an existing course - it is quite complicated. However, I think by following the spirit of the Key Capabilities, it is a very good opportunity for students to model a way of keeping an eye on the child - and although the Key Capabilities were originally designed to be around working across different disciplines within … or different specialisms within Social Work, actually we have moved into a world now where they are a very good model for thinking about looking across agencies and disciplines and keeping an eye on the child as well - and I will come back to that.

So students are in a position where they can model that kind of service user centred approach right from the child up, and one of the most important things that I was saying then and I still hold with now, is that it is not just about the protection of children or an over-focus on children at the expense of everybody else - my firm view is that if you are working with adults who also have children, your work is enhanced if you take account of the parent role that those adults have, in whatever specialism you are. So actually I think it is as much about giving a holistic service to adults who are also parents in practice - by taking account of that parenting role and what it means to them and the effect it has on them and the issues that are associated with that. so I don’t think … although obviously I do come from a perspective protection of children - actually I think it is as much about holistic and effective work across the lifespan, that we take account of that parenting role, and also take account of the childhood experiences of that parent.

So leadership, as influenced by the Key Capabilities - what we find now is, in a way that the sort of policy arena is kind of catching up in some ways with what was being modelled, I think by the Key Capabilities model. If you look at the Getting It Right For Every Child policy - that is very much about having a focus from the universal services on the position of the child and wellbeing of the child, whatever setting and wherever they are encountered. GIRFEC policy is soon to be embedded in some legislation. Also there, if you look at the developing of the Getting Our Priorities Right policy around working with adults affected by substance misuse, there is a revision of that that is imminent, and that very much emphasises the importance of keeping the eye on the child in whatever setting.

But other initiatives have been influenced (… unclear) by the Key Capabilities. One some of you may have seen, I don’t know, some of you may have seen the work that was done by NES, the NHS Education for Scotland, called ‘Core Competency Framework for the Protection of Children’ and this is for health staff, nursing and allied health professionals. Interesting, I think, to get a little peak into what is happening in some of these other professions. This is a really interesting framework, it has got a number of levels and it sets out a competency framework for the protection of children with some different levels - and for health practitioners encountering children, they are expected to, depending on the kind of level they have with children, to have a set of understandings about the needs and wellbeing of children. It is actually a very nice document - it is very nicely laid out actually, that NES framework. If you get a chance to have a look at it, there is quite a lot of interchange, I think, with some of the concepts and values in the Key Capabilities - and indeed we were consulted when they were developing that.

Another interesting development is the ‘Common Core of Skills, Knowledge & Understanding and Values for the “Children’s Workforce” in Scotland. Now this is very much again a multidisciplinary endeavour, and it is setting out some of the sort of expectations for people who work with children across health and social care settings, and it describes a sort of underpinning common set of skills, knowledge and understanding of values that people should have when working with children and their families. And there has been a lot of work on developing that - again, has been, to some extent, influenced by the Key Capabilities. There is a common core that is in place in England and has been for quite some time - this was what I was kind of, at one point, calling the ‘Tartan Core’, which is developed for Scotland specifically. And it sets out essential characteristics for those who work with children, young people and families in Scotland. So very generic, very multidisciplinary - and it talks about things we couldn’t argue with - the importance of developing good relationships, relationships with service users, relationships between workers, the importance of non-discrimination, interest of the child, right to (… unclear) and development and respecting the views of the child. So interesting these … you can clearly see they are influenced and very congruent with our kind of core Social Work values, and indeed it sets out for common values for people working with children. And I think we, the Social Work profession, should be taking some credit actually for having some influence in this multidisciplinary arena within which we are working in terms of our values and principles for working with people, alongside people, in partnership with people and also having a strong value base.

Okay, so what are the future settings our students are going to be working in? Our students are going to graduate into practice where personalisation, self-directed services are the key drivers, and in the context of integrated services. Obviously the personalisation, self-directed services is moving on a pace in Adult Services, but to an extent in Children’s Services, particularly around disabled children - but interesting debates to be had about how it will roll out more widely. Now these are hugely contested issues, in particularly the concept of personalisation, about which there is quite a fierce ideological debate about where you come from as regard to personalisation. I think, to some extent, Social Work actually got caught on the hop with this a little bit, and we perhaps took our eye off the ball, because I think because we have always been so rooted in notions of person-centred practice, and kind of it’s what we do - and we just, we kind of assumed that actually personalisation is what we have been doing anyway - that we let some of that debate get away from us. And what I would argue is that our students are in a very strong position to kind of help rest back that personalisation agenda a little bit and really root it within Social Work values - and particularly around a person-centred approach, which we are actually very comfortable with. This is one of our core values - but alongside the value of social justice and some fears about personalisation are that they are much more to do with finance, economically driven, and that the social justice element has been lost. But I think our Social Work students going into that multidisciplinary arena, working with personalisation, self-directed services, can help to really shape that agenda in a way that we would feel comfortable working with.

Thinking about multidisciplinarity, I love this term, it’s a terminological quagmire. As you will see, there has been all of these different terms - coordination, collaboration, multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary … the term ’transdisciplinary’ has started to emerge, and that is talking about joint working, but working in partnership with people who use services. I think that is quite a useful concept. But of course increasingly and legislatively I think, and with the Christie Commission and a number of things happening in Scotland, we are moving towards integration. The Police have gone for it big style - I mean in the sense of the Police and Fire Services, they are now one big service. Highlands is already going hell for leather with its integration agenda. Looking at some of the literature around this very interesting writing, notably from Iriss, Alison Petch, but others, around a little bit more analysis of what that means, because we need to be clear what we mean by integration. And an important concept is distinguishing integrated services from integrated care - and Iriss, certainly in their work, emphasises that we need to think about service integration and not necessarily just put our emphasis on organisational integration. And you can have integration at a number of different levels in the system. You can have integration that is vertical, or you can have integration that is horizontal. And I think what is really important, particularly for students going into this arena, is being able to actually understand the context in which they find themselves. I suspect some of the practitioners at the moment may not be entirely clear about how all these structures are working and who they are actually accountable to. So for students, I think having a good … we probably need to be doing quite a bit more about organisational analysis and understanding organisations actually, in terms of them understanding the setting they are in.

So there has been some interesting work by some colleagues of our actually who are in the Nursing Midwifery School at Stirling - they produced a really interesting paper recently which was considering “what are the implications for education and training of this integrated service world?” And they are particularly looking at Health, Nursing, obviously because that’s what they do, and Social Work education - and they spoke to quite a few people. And they looked at some of the key concepts for multi-professional working, around client led services - what are the core competencies, what is the shared responsibility, about the big issue of professional identity within this integrated world. And what they said in their report was that stakeholders cited child protection as an example of professionals moving away from being task orientated and only focusing on the tasks that their particular profession fulfils, to taking collective responsibility for protecting the child. Now perhaps that is a slightly rose-tinted view of what it might always feel like on the ground, but it is certainly, in my experience and seeing what is happening out in the field and going to seminars and conferences about child protection, it is absolutely clear now that it is seen to be a multidisciplinary responsibility. Universal services are absolutely clear that they see themselves as playing a key role in the protection of children and the wellbeing of children - and they don’t always know precisely how they should do it or how it all fits together - there is a lot more to be done on the ground of the nuts and bolts of it. But the will is there and the complete acceptance that it is actually part of their role, and also again enhances their own job, if they are able to take account of the wellbeing of children.

So they also highlight - is there the possibility for more joint placements? One of their respondents said there could be real benefit in coordinating placements, so it’s not just a nurse going in to see nurses - instead you might have a nurse and Social Work student going in together. So quite a bit of thinking going on, I think, about are there more interesting ways we could bring students together, and at what stage do we? Is it pre-registration, as they would say, or pre-qualification, post-qualification, at what arena, how do we preserve professional identity but also enable people to work jointly together? They set out a number of options for the kind of things we should think about in education and training in terms of the continuity of multi-professional education. Is there interest in a more bringing-together the undergraduate teaching a bit more? We do some at Stirling - some of the student who are on the course, education, learning to be teachers, do our Human Development module with the Social Work students, and at Dundee I know they have joint modules as well. Joint placements, leadership … So I am not advocating any of these, what I am saying is there is an aspect developing now of questioning - things are opening up about the ways that we educate our students for the future, how do we equip them best for the settings within which they are going to be working, and thinking about creative ways in which we can look across the different professional training arenas and see what we can bring together from that.

So focusing in a little bit more, just more closely on the Key Capabilities - kind of Key Capabilities are clustered around effective communication, knowledge and understanding, professional competence and competence and values and ethical practice. Again I said then, and I still say now, that the term ‘childcare and protection’ is used to refer to the full broad spectrum of activities around the prevention of harm, promotion of welfare of children, provision of therapeutic support following abuse. So right across the spectrum, and not just focussing on that narrow, investigative interviewing process.

Now we still, having just completed recently this review of what is happening with child neglect in Scotland, I think it is interesting that we still have some difficulties in the extent to which we are integrating that forensic investigative element of child protection within the wider GIRFEC approach. It is not helped by the fact that in the Scottish government, the GIRFEC team are a separate team from the Child Protection team, albeit under the same kind of directorate. But there are some leadership issues, I guess, in this, about which direction we are going and how we bring them together. If any of you have a chance to, if you haven’t already, to look at the evaluation of the Highland pathfinder of the implementation of GIRFEC, it’s incredibly long and quite a big report, which is, I think, why a lot of people haven’t read it, because it’s … but it has got some really, really interesting material in there about ways in which that sort of statutory, compulsory, investigative aspect - which is just a tiny bit of what we are doing in relation to promoting the wellbeing of children - can be located within a wider universal approach to the promotion of the wellbeing of children.

Now it was very clear from the beginning that practice learning opportunities should be ethical, meaningful, should focus on outcomes and should foster creative links. And it is probably no harm reminding ourselves of some of these - in particular in relation to some of the concerns - and I am going to talk about some of the concerns, some of the emergent problems, but also some examples of some creative practice - and I will do all of that in about 7 minutes so we have got time for questions.

There were concerns that … well there was a different spectrum of concerns - there were some saying “this is far too rigid - we don’t want another set of competencies added on top of all the goodness knows how many competencies we already have to get our heads round - too structured”. There are others that are saying “well it’s not prescriptive enough, and what happens is all the HEI’s go out and do it differently - and I know, I know, I know how much it drives you all wild - practice educators, practice teachers, that we all do things differently”. And we hear about this a lot. And again that goes into much wider debates about the extent to which it is or isn’t useful to have some kind of national curriculum, to have some kind of common expectations, but whilst also building in diversity, creativity and difference between programmes. So that is an ongoing, I think, and important debate that just has to continue - I don’t think there is an actual solution to that. But it does mean that we have all done them a bit differently.

There was real concerns that the focus on children was at the expense of the focus on other people - people who are no longer children, in our range of other settings, and that that was giving a primacy to practice with children at the expense of other areas - because, you know, you can only fit so much into what is essentially really quite a short programme. There was also concerns that whilst it is good to be creative, there could also be some tokenistic responses. And looking at some of the problems, speaking to people, hearing what people are saying - there are some potential and actual problems and concerns about how it has all been kind of rolling out, which I think is actually quite a good time to take stock of some of this just now, because there has been so many changes actually in the field as well - so it’s quite a good time to take stock of how it is all working out.

One of the problems appears to be some kind of belief that evidencing Key Capabilities still means doing traditional children and families work - and obviously in some ways that’s the easiest, you know, because it’s sort of, you know, clear - although actually people can do children and families work and still not reflect that well on what it actually has meant, and some will do it splendidly well. But it doesn’t only mean doing children and families work. There is a lot of anxieties about bolting on a piece of work, you know, we have got to find a Hearing report or something to bolt on, just so that we can say “right, crikey they have done it, thank goodness”, which feeds into this tick box approach as well - and I think probably most of our universities, on our form somewhere, we have got something where you have to say “yes, this student has met …”, and that is us, in effect, driving our tick box culture.

It appears there is some assumption that it only kind of applies to young children and not young people, you know, right through - when do we decide where childhood has ended and the protection of children ends? We have some very vulnerable young people - there is some very interesting research emerging about neglected adolescents, for example. These, as we know, are the children … young people that end up in the sort of criminal justice, youth justice settings, or getting into lots of difficulties - but they are children about whom we should be really concerned about their protection and wellbeing. And although we kind of know that instinctively, still in practice it’s often the case that older young people get swept and caught up into the kind of offending, youth justice arena, to the expense of the consideration of some of their sort of protection issues. Older young people and effective work with them is also about taking account of the sort of welfare, broader welfare and protection issues.

Again this assumption that it only applies to narrow, forensic definition of child protection - I am still really, really trying to push against this more broadly within my world of child protection. But still when to talk to people in statutory settings or who are focused on child protection, the protection of children is still very much equated with that tight, investigative process - incident driven, investigative driven … it is beautifully structured, it actually works reasonably well, there is really nice tight protocols, multidiscipline, it works very well - but it is only one tiny part of what we are doing in terms of protecting children. And all of us, I think, whatever setting we are in, have to try and keep modelling or moving away from the simple kind of equation of child protection with that forensic investigative system. And indeed, if I was developing a system from scratch, I probably wouldn’t have that bit in it in that same shape or form, because it has become such a driver of everything else.

There are what some practice teachers are saying that when students come on their second placement, the message is that they haven’t really addressed the key capabilities - and yet when speaking to the student there could well have been many opportunities where they could have evidenced it. It just has been kind of missed or overlooked or hasn’t really been focused on. And in fact that is again about looking more creatively and being confident about we really do mean we look at it in its broadest sense. There is also a bigger question about whether it is moving out of step with some of the moves out in the field, particularly towards much more people or public protection structures. Now again, part of my journey on Key Capabilities is that some of the more recent work I have been involved in, in Stirling, has been looking more at lifespan development work. I have been involved in some research around the Adult Support and Protection Act, I have also been involved in a series of seminars where we brought people together from the child protection, elder abuse, domestic abuse arenas to look at some cross-fertilisations of ideas and developments. Out in the field, increasingly, people are bringing together Child Protection Committees with Adult Protection Committees, with (… unclear) with all their different committees and bringing them together. We are also beginning to ask questions - do we need a proliferation of different legislations to protect different groups? Do we need to step back and have something more harmonised, akin to what is happening with some of the Equalities legislation. You know, we had a proliferation of groups who might be considered to be discriminated against, and actually have stepped back a bit and harmonised some of that. so actually the world is shifting and changing away from locating a particular category of people who might be at elevated risk of abuse or harm and taking a more analytical approach to the complexities of harm and abuse perpetrator victim divides, and sometimes that isn’t that clear.

So that, I think, is a real question for us - are we moving to something where we want to bring together and cross-fertilise from the Adult Support and Protection arena and the Child Protection arena, Domestic Abuse … and I think there is probably some very rich opportunities, which again I think our students are in a very strong position to be thinking about - particularly as we still, on our Social Work courses, hold to promoting generic social work education - and we are tenaciously holding onto that, in spite of every now and then debates about “do we need specialist childcare courses?” And of course we have still, also here, which people look at with envy from down south, we still hold onto the Criminal Justice Social Work. And when I speak to people in England they really are very envious of the fact that we have still managed to hold onto that. So there is also, I think, a danger … I will finish very soon, honestly … there is dangers of fuelling this … we all drive towards risk aversion - because it can be interpreted, this focus on protection of children, as being part of this risk society. That we have become preoccupied with risk protection, risk regulation, Social Work activities associated with all the perceived risks - we get the flak for when everything goes wrong as well, because we are seen to be able to contain all the risks there are. There has been real escalation of activity frameworks, protocols, checklists, to try and help us … “us”, I say that as if I am actually out there doing much social work - I am not really anymore - I still feel as if I am … predict, manage, contain risk. And it is really striking, the extent to which the concept of risk has moved from being a neutral terms describing the likelihood of something happening, to absolutely, exclusively a focus on something bad happening. And I think Eileen Munro gives us a very useful reminder, actually a reminder of our own fallibility, is establishing a realistic expectation of professionals ability to predict the future and manage the risk of harm.

Interestingly though, is the pendulum just beginning to teeter a little bit back the other way, in terms of we are now seeing language like “risk enablement”, particularly coming from the Adult Services arena. In Control has been one of the organisations that has been really pushing this concept, risk taking, active risk taking, risk enablement - a real challenge to that risk averse society. Many feel that this, risk enablement, is just not possible unless we have the facilitating conditions whereby individual practitioners do not feel that they are going to be hung out to try. And I think we have a lack of congruence between what people’s frontline fears and anxieties and realistic concerns are about the extent to which they could be personally blamed if something goes wrong - and a discourse of supporting more creative risk enablement practice. So that is another debate, I think, with which our students can engage very effectively - where do they fit, where will they fit with that expectation of being creative, autonomous professionals who will take risks within organisations where they could well be hung out to dry if something goes wrong. So something again we need to think about equipping them for to cope with.

And just finally, just to finish with a couple of examples - I am sure many of you will have many examples - I just collected up some examples from people around me of the sort of thing they are seeing where people are doing some creative work with Key Capabilities. So for example a student in a prison setting who was looking at the different kind of strategies fathers took in relation to their children - either pretending they were working away from home or having some contact by letter, having visits and contact. And that student did a lot of thinking and assessment and considered the implications for prisoners who had children - thinking about preparing them for release, and also thinking about “what does it mean for the children?” So that was an example in the prison setting.

Again a student in a criminal justice team working with someone about to be released from custody, where there were a whole range of issues which were clearly posing a risk to the children in relation to offending domestic abuse attachment issues - but that student was involved in a really strong network of professionals, where there was good communication, the student was part of that, where they all worked together to try and maintain the balance of not stigmatising the offender who had done their time and was coming out, but also keeping an eye on the needs of the child, and all the value issues and the principles in that - a very rich learning experience for a student in that kind of context.

Students in a drug and alcohol setting where there was a cycle of change model being used for a parent - thinking about the implications of a shift in parenting capacity and the implications for the children of that. And sometimes some of the voices of children will suggest that they find it actually really quite scary and disturbing when their parent is actually going through a process of rehabilitation, because things are all changing around them.

Working with older people, being resettled at home after an illness - looking at the increased care and responsibilities of that person’s daughter, and then the knock-on effect on her children. So it’s lateral thinking.

Day care settings for people with dementia - there was a student who reviewed their Child Protection Policy, particularly because it was much more outreach, community based work. Similarly in that setting there was a student who produced a leaflet for children to aid discussion with families about the impact of dementia, and another developed a programme to be delivered within a school, a local school, to encourage children to really understand the issue of dementia.

So just to sum up, I think students do demonstrate leadership already, and they have a potential to demonstrate leadership for all disciplines in how they … and it is just a model and it is an example of how they address the issue of children - but there are many other issues they address. They are good at asking questions - “does this person have any children?” They are good at curiosity - they are encouraged to be curious. They can ask questions like “I wonder what the impact might be upon the children?” And they do read the literature, as far as we can get them to, they do - and I am finding increasingly students are really hungry for getting hold of literature, evidence, research. And they are also, because we still do have a generic course, they are in a position to really think about the lifespan. They haven’t got focused in on one particular specialism yet - they are still thinking generically. They are thinking about the impact of the past on the present. They are thinking about different contexts. If we can encourage our students not to lose that lifespan approach I think, once they get into different specialist settings, we can equip them to be the leaders we would like them to be within the new multidisciplinary context. Thank you.

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