Organisations need the right people, possessing a high level of skill and a commitment to designing and delivering interventions that effectively change child and parent behaviours. This will help keep more families safely together.
Interventions should be evidence-based and supplemented by the provision of extensive and high quality training. Additionally, individuals need to be supported by frequent opportunities to be reflective and thoughtful about the intention and impact of current practice.
The evidence base proves that by adopting this effective approach to child and family social work, the numbers of looked after children will begin to steadily decrease. This enables local authorities to deliver on efficiency savings, through the reductions made in the looked after children’s placement budget. This, in turn, presents local authorities with an opportunity to invest into wider early intervention services.
As the improvement cycle improves and expands, other efficiencies elsewhere in the system can be realised. For example: reduction in referral rates to Children’s Social Care; reduction in care proceedings; anti-social behaviour; youth crime; and so on. The extent to which a local authority is able to achieve widespread efficiencies and effectiveness is dependent on the scale and depth of the implementation on the whole.
Fundamentally, all work with complex families should be principally interested in keeping children together with their families – wherever safely possible.
Critical to the success of working with complex families, is establishing a shared value base from which to work. In the often stressful, high risk and dynamic environment that this work takes place, it is all too easy to lose sight of purpose and values.
This is often illustrated by a tendency to behave in punitive, risk averse ways towards some of the most complex children and families in our society. Front line practitioners need a firm and confident position in relation to risk management, in order for them to be confident enough to execute a clear vision. Practitioners must be extremely motivated to help and support families in the most acute difficulties, and be committed to helping them move towards change.
The key pre-condition to successful work is a belief that almost all families can and want to change - even those with serious and deeply entrenched difficulties.
Structure is vital – it provides important messages about the value placed on certain professional disciplines, activities and tasks.
The evidence base supports the use of multi-disciplinary models of intervention, where intensive and ongoing support is provided – when working with complex families - through a small number of professionals who share case discussion and decision making responsibilities.
The benefits of social work units - where collaborative practice promotes a focus on the whole family system - are well documented. Simple structural arrangements, which are clearly understood by staff and families alike, are often the most successful.
This refers to the processes and routines that characterise how the work should be done. For example: child-care decision making; financial systems; recruitment and performance appraisal systems; recording and information systems; and so on.
In essence, systems should be simple, so that they are relevant, intelligent, flexible and useful to practitioners. Children’s social care must have strong arrangements in place to manage demand; without these in place resources will be inefficiently used, and the wrong families will get the wrong services.
This concerns the culture of the organisation. The level of trust, the extent of blame, confidence of practitioners, visibility of leaders, sense of common purpose, levels of decision making authority, and the extent of role generosity, are all indicators of the type of existing organisational culture. For effective work to take place with families, practitioners need to be trusted to get out of the front line and do the job they are trained to do.
This includes procedures and decision making about spending money and casework direction. Practitioners have become constrained by needless bureaucracy, often having to run, even the smallest of decisions, through their managers. This causes duplication of effect, drift and low-level accountability within both practice and management.
People are the most valuable resource of any organisation. In order to implement effective services, it is imperative that highly skilled individuals are placed in the right roles. Robust and flexible recruitment processes must be in place in order to sufficiently assess the relevant skill-set, intellectual ability and personal qualities, of all potential staff.
Organisations must carefully consider the personnel implications of any level of change. We strongly recommend that people are only recruited when it is very clear that they possess the necessary skill set and attitude necessary for successful and effective work within your organisation.
Working with families is a difficult job – one that requires a range of complex skills and a sound knowledge base from which to practice. This includes the ability to carry out effective assessments, implement intervention methodologies with families, and appropriately manage varying levels of risk context.
A good social worker must possess a deep understanding of the physical and emotional development of children and young people, and an ability to make positive relationships with families and other professionals. Moreover, this should be supported by strong report writing and communication capabilities. Practitioners also need to be confident, articulate, professional, resilient and determined, to deliver effective child and family social work.
Central to the RSW model of working is privileging specific evidence based methodologies, which are then developed across the relevant staff group. Focussed attention on a key skill set will ensure limited resources are used to best effect.
Skill development is a key strategic component of RSW and must be commissioned and managed by the professionals responsible for delivery. It is vitally important to embed strong skill sets across all teams and whole organisations – this is unlikely to be achieved by offering one or two day courses for only some individuals.