Whilst research studies paint a worrying picture, they also point to tangible practice solutions. We know that good practice and effective services can support children to return home safely. We're working with academics, local authorities, practice experts and young people to improve support for children returning home. Our reunification practice framework, created in partnership with University of Bristol, brings all of these research messages into one place, and provides practical guidance and tools for practitioners working with children and families.
And with our support packages we can work with local authorities to implement local solutions.
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The framework supports practitioners and managers to apply structured professional judgement to decisions about whether and how a child should return home from care. It supports families and workers to understand what needs to change, to set goals, access support and services and review progress. The framework fits in with the existing care planning and family support work delivered by children's services departments and scrutinised by Independent Reviewing Officers. The tasks will primarily be undertaken by the child's social worker and their manager, assisted by family support teams.
Foster carers, residential care staff and schools all have a significant role to play in supporting children and parents throughout the process. To find out more about how we can support you, email reunification nspcc.
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These are likely to be directors, assistant directors, heads of service and senior managers with strategic responsibility for looked after children, edge of care, family support services and workforce development. We've created a tool which enables local authorities to calculate local costs and potential savings: Providing support for children and families on return home from care - calculating the cost and potential savings. See also Annex 3 of How to implement the Reunification Practice Framework: a checklist for local authorities for further information.
We have been working with 14 local authorities and the universities of Loughborough and Bristol since to develop, deliver and evaluate the practice framework. The University of Bristol has evaluated the implementation, and the findings from the evaluation alongside the views of parents, young people, local authority managers, practitioners and academics have informed this current version.
Wilkins M. Farmer, E. Wade, J. London: Jessica Kingsley. Section Children Act Download Reunification: an evidence-informed framework for return home practice PDF. Download How to implement the reunification practice framework: a checklist for local authorities PDF. Download Providing support for children and families on return home from care - calculating the cost and potential savings XLSX. When errors are blamed on one person, the organization fails to explore what other factors contributed to it and so fails to reduce the chances of other workers, in similar circumstances, repeating it.
Suppose, for example, a team develops a local custom of managing time pressures by taking shortcuts in following the procedure manual. It also fails to address the underlying problem that the workers are trying to solve by using a shortcut, that is, having insufficient time to follow all procedures. Moreover, a narrowly focused response to error leads to narrowly focused solutions to the identified problems. The individual solutions then interact in ways that have unintended and unexpected results, as illustrated in a review of the English child protection system Munro, Organizations that achieve a high safety record known as high reliability organizations; Weick, have in common that they appreciate how error is unavoidable and that achieving safer practice requires organizations to be able to learn how the system is functioning in practice.
This requires a positive error culture where people are not afraid to report difficulties, mistakes, and weaknesses in their practice. Moving to such a learning culture requires a shift in how child protection organizations conceptualize good and bad performance. Before exploring the concept of a learning culture further, let us turn to the second type of error in child protection: that caused by uncertainty.
The key problem with uncertainty is that it is unavoidable. We cannot eliminate it from child protection work, only reduce it and seek to manage it intelligently. It pervades our knowledge of what has happened as well as what will happen.
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However thorough the investigation into an allegation of harm, there is always some degree of uncertainty about what has been happening to the child. The history collected will be incomplete. Facts are often unclear or disputed: Was the father drunk at the time? Did the child fall or was he pushed? People can lie or forget.
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Moreover, attempting to construct a complete history would take an impossibly long time to put together. Here, systemic factors will be highly influential. Workers have to make a judgement how much time can be taken to conduct an investigation relative to the urgency of a child's need for protection and the agency's resources. When it comes to predicting what might happen to the child, the uncertainty increases. Will the parent cause further harm? In all the key decisions that need to be made in child protection work, it is not a matter of choosing between a safe or a dangerous option.
In all options available, there is some probability of both harm and benefits to the child. Predicting the future in relation to human actions is challenging because of the complexity of the causal influences on the individual. The reasons it [prediction] is so difficult are the large number of variables that affect an outcome whose contributions must be both understood and measured, the role of variables we have not yet identified that contribute to the outcome, and the intervention of randomness, that is, variables that are completely outside the system but that can affect the system behaviour we are attempting to predict Mitchell, , p.
Some may be surprised that I have separated uncertainty from risk, but uncertainty has always been a major feature of children's services, whereas risk is a more recent entrant, beginning to appear in the literature in the s. The terms are not synonymous.
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Crucially, they function differently in the social narrative. Power has graphically demonstrated how uncertainty becomes risk when someone is given responsibility for managing it. This happened in children's services over the s and 90s. Parton, Thorpe, and Wattam relate how, in England during this period, child welfare services became child protection. Nowadays, people do not generally talk of working with uncertainty but of managing risk.
This shift is associated with a shift towards a blame culture in society more generally Beck, ; Giddens, This shift means that discussions of uncertainty are often incomplete with attention to the negative possibilities not being balanced by attention to the positive ones. The shift to risk management has positive features.
It draws on developments in other fields, especially probability theory, to bring some structure to the challenging task of making decisions under conditions of uncertainty. Nothing in this article should be interpreted as wanting to reject the whole concept of risk management.
However, it also has negative features in that societies can all too readily expect more from it than it can deliver. Hence, in child protection work, it can become the norm to react to a child's death from maltreatment by looking for the professional to blame. The readiness with which people will blur managing risk with eliminating risk can be partly understood as arising from the human yearning for certainty and tendency to ignore uncertainty Gigerenzer, Slovic reports how this leads people to deny the uncertainty either by making it seem so small that it can be safely ignored or so large that it clearly should be avoided.
But this sets impossible standards for child protection services. However, there are a number of reasons for being cautious about their use in child protection. First, it is important to remember that these are based on data about cases referred to child protection services, and there is evidence that these are a nonrepresentative sample. Research on the incidence of maltreatment that questions adult survivors reveals a far higher rate than is known to official services, and the population revealed in such studies is less skewed towards low income and ethnic minority families Gilbert et al.
Second, creating an algorithm from the administrative databases of child protection services incorporates any existing biases in professionals' judgements. Bias on the basis of social group, ethnicity, or gender is then out of sight in an apparently neutral scientific instrument O'Neill, Instruments are typically recalibrated against subsequent datasets produced by using the instrument, and biases can then be magnified.
There is no reason for assuming that child protection would avoid similar distortions, and, indeed, in view of the bias in which families are reported to child protection, there are good reasons for assuming that such distortions exist in actuarial tools. A number of different organizational cultures have been identified about how to manage uncertainty and respond to errors. Westrum identified three types of organizational culture that shapes the way people respond to evidence of problems.
Pathological culture—suppresses warnings and minority opinions; responsibility is avoided and new ideas actively discouraged. Bureaucratic culture—information is acknowledged but not dealt with. Responsibility is compartmentalized. Messengers are typically ignored because new ideas are seen as problematic. People are not encouraged to participate in improvement efforts. Generative culture—is able to make use of information, observations, or ideas wherever they exist in the system, without regard to the location or status of the person or group having such information, observations, or ideas.
Unfortunately, too many child protection agencies fit the first category of a pathological culture where fear of blame encourages workers at all levels to adopt defensive strategies and try to cover up mistakes instead of using them as the opportunity for valuable learning.
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In such a negative error culture, their professional practice can also be distorted by believing that they are more likely to be blamed for failures of compliance with procedures than for poor quality work with families. In England, there was also evidence that the blame culture contributed to people avoiding using their professional judgement by overinterpreting guidance as fixed rules Munro, If child protection services are to be able to learn from the two types of error I have discussed, they need to develop a generative culture that seeks feedback on how the system is working and learns from it.
Creating such a culture requires several factors, summarized in a Department of Health report as a a reporting culture where people are prepared to talk about errors or weak practice; b a just culture—an atmosphere of trust where there is a clear line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour; c a flexible culture that respects the skills and abilities of front line staff and allows them to have some autonomy; and d a learning culture—the willingness and competence to learn from feedback and to implement reforms where needed.
Although all four factors are necessary, this article is concerned primarily with creating a just culture where people feel they will be judged by reasonable standards that take account of what was known at the time rather than being distorted by hindsight. Fear of blame has been found to be a major obstacle to developing a learning culture in other sectors Dekker, In the health sector, for example, Armstrong et al. Armstrong et al.
Procedures and guidance in child protection work provide some shared understanding but have insufficient detail; implementing them requires the individual worker's expertise and judgement, and this is done within a work context that influences their performance. Time, resources, and supervision all influence the standard of work in positive or negative ways.
For centuries, philosophers have studied how people do and should deliberate producing guidance but no definitive rules Thiele, Deliberation is not just reasoning carefully but is thinking that addresses a decision or action, that is, it is basic to child protection work. It differs from deductive reasoning in that there are no proven standards that lead to determinate conclusions. They consulted with psychologists, criminologists, philosophers, and police officers and, through consensus, produced a set of principles.
The set below has been adapted to fit the child protection context, based on discussion with several groups of social workers. Although this may seem so obvious it hardly needs stating, it can be relegated to second place in a defensive culture where a person or group rank option A as best for the child but choose option B because it is more likely to protect them from blame: they cover their back.
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