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Thursday, October 27, 2011

It's the relationship in social work that matters in family preservation

OFSTED in the UK has just published an overview report that considers factors that keep children in families and out of foster care. It makes for fascinating reading. One of the key findings is that the nature of the relationship between the social worker and the family makes a significant difference. The report notes, " They were described as persistent, reliable, open and honest, which included being absolutely straight about what needed to change. They enabled the families to see that they had strengths and that change was possible." Being able to create hope matters.

Another finding was having a plan that made sense to the families. This included a focus that considered not only the needs of the children, but also the needs of parents, including fathers.

The study found that there are some factors that supported successful services included:

  • strong multi-agency working both operationally and strategically; this involved strategic analysis and understanding of the needs of this cohort of young people accompanied by investment in services to address these needs
  • clear and consistent referral pathways to services ␣ 
  • clearly understood and consistent decision-making processes based on
  • thorough assessment of risks and strengths within the family network
  • a prompt, persistent, and flexible approach, which was based on listening to the views of the young person and the family and building on their strengths
  • a clear plan of work based on thorough assessment and mutually agreed goals; regular review of progress and risk factors; robust and understood arrangements between agencies in respect of risk management; and clear planning for case closure and for sustainability of good outcomes.

The report further notes factors that were valued by families:

  • approaches which built on the strengths of the family
  • persistence, reliability and flexibility including the speed of response
  • open and honest communication, including in relation to what was and was not acceptable behaviour
  • an approach which valued family members, listening to, respecting and understanding the family’s perspective
  • clarity about expectations and what needed to be done to achieve improvements and the consequences for the family of not doing so
  • identifying and addressing the needs of all family members
  • working alongside the family to achieve shared goals
  • a clear plan to sustain progress when the involvement of the service ceased.
This all matters as it helps child protection to see that children can be kept out of care with the right supports that involve agencies working together on a clear case plan. However, if this is to work, there needs to be room for the worker to build the needed relationships. Workers must come onto a file with the probability that they will be there to see it through. Too many families experience an array of workers coming and going from their case. Why then should the family even try to invest in a relationship?

Perhaps a reverse question should be asked of child protection supervisors - If you want families to succeed and keep your entries into expensive foster care down, why would you change workers around often? It is my experience that families can more often than not count that the worker will change. 

Given this research data, that may be very counterproductive. From this report (and others) we see that real change is possible.

If you would like to read the whole report, it can be found at the Ofsted website.

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