Explore and join in

Pause, a project that makes women whose children have been removed by the state take contraception to qualify for intensive support, is saving millions – but is it ethical?

Pause is a service designed to step into the lives of these women, made fragile by layers of accumulated anguish, and work intensively alongside them for 18 months on the practical and emotional challenges they face. It finds a dedicated practitioner – deliberately not a social worker – to run with a caseload of just six to eight, in order to develop a therapeutic relationship with a woman and be her advocate with housing, health, psychological and addiction services so that the critical nature of her needs are better understood.

You can read more here https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/jan/25/pause-project-mothers-pregnancy-children-in-care?CMP=share_btn_tw


Child protection decisions: can we tame the beast?

Social Worker: . . . It [threshold] changes all the time . . . it can change through management. It can change because of a serious incident . . . It can be changed by something in the media… I mean, if you look at the smacking debates, you know and legally where, that area is very grey isn’t it, and I think it’s difficult for us to, because we’re, I suppose as a service, are always trying to react to all the other outside influences . . . (Field Note, Social Worker) (Doherty, 2016)[i]

How do we help professionals make the best decisions they can? What role does bias play in child protection? Do parents and their children get just and fair treatment?

These questions occupy social work academic Emily Keddell. She has conducted research in New Zealand and drawn on studies of decision-making in Norway, California and England, which highlighted many of the issues at play and the need for training and supervision to raise awareness.

Ignite met Emily, from University of Otago in New Zealand last summer during her visit to Coventry University as part of the Child Wefare Inequalities Project led by Professor Paul Bywaters

In her presentation Emily reminded us that thinking of child protection decisions as being made by a single person, collecting and objectively appraising a neat set of information to reach a conclusion is a mistake. Social workers are in a much harder place than that.

Their decisions are the result of multiple and often fast moving interactions and negotiations between parents, children, managers, and other professionals. They are driven by pressures from above and outside the process too, never more so than when Press and politicians react in the wake of a child death.

Workforce anxiety swells in an atmosphere of distress and blame and leaves behind an unhelpful legacy of constraining systems and processes with sometimes peverse incentives for example favouring case closure over ensuring sound long term outcomes.

Teams within larger systems can also build up their own specific cutlures, where rules about ways of doing things can operate unseen, contributing to differences in outcomes for families and children

Theories used to aid parctitioners’ decisions can be contradictory and difficult to interpret. Research into the consequences of abuse alerts us to the damage of certain behaviours and contexts, but it also shows the remarkable resilience of children even in quite trying circumstances. Research shows that changing children’s family contexts can be risky as well as protective. It’s hard to predict which way it will go.

Meanwhile like all of us, practitioners are influenced by differing values, beliefs and cultural views for example about how children and parents should behave and be treated. If a practitioner has a strong belief that children should remain in their families of origin unless absolutely impossible, this will play out in the decisons they make.

In terms of inequalities – persistent ethnic, socioeconoimc and gendered inequalities shape who is in contact with child protections services and the experiences of families once they enter them. Without help and space to reflect on their biases, practitioners tend to make a fast ‘anchor hypothesis’ about what is happening for such a family, then look for information to confirm it, rather than remain open to a range of possible explanations and more positive prospects.

Emily Keddell: emily.keddell@otago.ac.nz @EmilyK100

Emily’s research is about the decisions made about removing children or not. But Ignite has seen on the ground how that ‘anchor hypothesis’ is make or break in terms of whether the social worker can find strengths to build on, the aspiration or hope they might hold for the family before the children protecion threshold is reached.

This vast array of influences on decisions makes providing consistency in outcomes for families experiencing similar types of struggles or children experiencing similar levels of harm very difficult. Controlling the beast so as to ensure just outcomes for families is challenging indeed.

So how can we get just and fair outcomes for families and children?

Ignite wants to help open a space for reflection for practitioners and the system on what might help. Is it feedback loops where practitioners learn the longer term outcomes of their decisions? Is it developing reflection on bias? Is it introducing the lived experience of women and families?

[i] Doherty, P. (2016). Child protection threshold talk and ambivalent case formulations in ‘borderline’ care proceedings cases. Qualitative Social Work, 1 – 19 doi: DOI: 10.1177/1473325016640062


Be part of the story

One of us had a dream he was a lifeguard. He was doing his best but people were drowning all around him. We bet it’s your nightmare too: social workers, health workers, teachers, anyone.

We’re front line staff who wanted to make a difference. We help the drowning but those slipping into difficulty too often have to be side-lined.

We just don’t have time. It might be the job we want to do but it’s not the one we get paid for. We know they will get picked up at some point – when things get worse or maybe on some other services’ radar.

It’s tempting to blame ‘the system’. But we are the system- we can change and it can change! It starts with us.

Getting involved is easy. Start a debate, join a group, tap into a knowledge ‘café’ or event, or just get our news.

Contact us at emma.bates@coventryignite.org.uk

About the Knowledge Café

A knowledge café connects people that may not usually meet to have an open, creative conversation on a topic of mutual interest. It fuels insights and new thinking.

“If only we knew what we know”
David Gurteen

CNC Coventry wants us all to share what we know about working on causes not consequences and cook up something new.

Anyone who wants to host a Knowledge Cafe just needs to find a space and time to do it. We can promote it for you through this site, our ebulletin, facebook or twitter.

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What really drives system change: the value of values

I’m the Director of Grapevine in Coventry and Warwickshire. Together with Central England Law Centre who received funding from the Early Neighbourhood Fund we’ve formed IGNITE.

We’re very curious about how you really make deep change happen in big complex systems dealing with big complex social problems.

So is Collaborate – an independent CIC focusing on the thinking, culture and practice of cross-sector collaboration in order to improve services to the public.

Read more

Open Dialogue from Finland to the UK

On 15th January we learned about a move to promote ‘Open Dialogue’ from Finland to the UK, an approach to working with families and networks in crisis with astonishing results already in Kent and Medway NHS.

They have a facebook group Open Dialogue UK.

To find out more about the work in Kent contact Yasmin Ishaq, Kent County Council / Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust.

Love Barrow Families

Love Barrow Families, co-ordinated by Cumbria Partnership NHS Foundation Trust and Cumbria County Council, is a project designed to improve the way that adult and children’s health and social care services work together to meet the complex needs of local families.

Lankelly Chase who fund the work say the project supports the whole family, assessing their real needs and discovering the skills and assets of the people in that family, and those surrounding them, to produce a specially-targeted package of support.

Staff at Love Barrow Families have daily contact with the families they work with, giving practical and emotional support to people who are often in crisis, consistently and without judgement.

For more information: www.cumbriapartnership.nhs.uk and http://lankellychase.org.uk/project-summary/love-barrow-families/