Since the baby Peter Connelly case, child protection social workers have felt under the cosh from all sides. Increasing referral rates and workloads, government requirements for recording and a less than user friendly computer system have made many social workers and their managers reluctant to stay within the child protection field and caused major difficulties around recruitment. Fortunately the problems are beginning to be recognised and the work of the Munro Review and the Social Work Reform Board are starting to address some of these problems. Early indications from both bodies is that high quality, regular supervision is crucial to keeping social workers in the job and makes for better decision making. But how to both skill up managers and provide the time and space for this kind of supervision is the challenge in the current environment.
The London Borough of Bromley recognised this problem over two years ago and decided to invest in its frontline managers through delivery of a specially commissioned training programme. In 2009, the authority commissioned two trainers Dr David Lawlor and Dr Judith Bell of Tavistock Consultancy to roll out training centred around reflective practice and supervision for all its frontline managers; a cohort of 36 staff members. The training, which ran from September 2010 and ends in July 2011, required all managers to attend 11 training sessions over this period. The programme is mandatory and is managing to achieve full attendance. The attendance of the senior management team is embedded within the training so that at each stage of the programme the learning is shared and any potential barriers to implementing the programme within the workplace are addressed.
In the training, managers are introduced to a set of concepts to understand the impact on staff of working with high risk and chaotic families. At the same time participants are introduced to academic papers that are chosen to deepen the conceptual frameworks in use. Built upon a model of Process Consultation and the use of the reflecting team, the training allows all participants to present real supervision cases which are then reflected upon by their peers, leading to valuable discussion and collective insights. Managers have the opportunity to present supervisory dilemmas or cases that they feel have become stuck or they are concerned about the management of risk. Process Consultation is a method that helps managers in their staff supervisory practice to perceive and understand and act upon the process events that occur in day to day work with children and families.
Having nearly completed the programme, managers have found the training a useful opportunity to share practice with their colleagues and importantly, to re-engage with the fundamentals of reflective practice which can be lost in the day to day pressures of social work. It is also identifying the challenges for busy social work teams, in embedding the practice of reflective practice. The training is allowing for all issues around supervision to be brought together within the service, providing senior management with invaluable intelligence to facilitate best practice around supervision.
Kay Weiss, Assistant Director says “I have no doubt that this programme is improving practice particularly in the management of complex child care cases. It is also improving our retention of staff, which has improved significantly over the life time of this training. It shows our commitment to valuing our staff who often undertake work in high risk situations and enables them to know that managers are listening.”
The programme is being closely evaluated by an independent consultant, assessing the impact that the training is having on actual practice; a common gap in the world of training. At the mid programme evaluation the majority of managers indicated that they found the training was helping them deepen and focus their practice. The next stage post July 2011, will be to interview front line child protection social workers to evaluate the impact the improved supervision arrangements have had on their working lives.
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