• Adding evidence to the ethics debate: investigating parents' experiences of their participation in research

      Westlake, David; Forrester, Donald (Oxford University Press, 2015-11-19)
      All research requires ethical scrutiny of the harm it may cause participants, yet we know relatively little about the actual experiences of service users who participate. This paper explores the views of parents and carers (n = 97) involved in an English study into outcomes for children known to Children's Services. Nearly all participants (96 per cent) who took part in two research interviews reported being glad they took part, and none expressed regret. Some participants (31 per cent) felt the interviews were difficult or upsetting to some degree, but most of these (90 per cent) also felt that talking to the researcher helped them with their problems. Indeed, parents who reported finding interviews upsetting were more likely to also find them helpful. We suggest that research needs to be considered as a form of intervention, rather than imagined as observing without influencing, and that as such it is necessary to balance both potential advantages and possible risks. Consequently, ethics committees need to focus on study design and the quality of interaction. This requires a focus on supporting researchers to not only ‘do no harm’, but to help people where possible. It also requires evaluation of the impact of research to be built into ethical study design.
    • Can we reliably measure social work communication skills? development of a scale to measure child and family social work direct practice

      Whittaker, Charlotte E.; Forrester, Donald; Killian, Mike; Jones, Rebecca (European Scientific Association on Residential & Family Care for Children and Adolescents, 2017-01-01)
      Few attempts have been made to define and measure the effectiveness of social work communication skills. This paper describes a coding scheme for rating seven dimensions of skilled communication in child and family social work practice and presents an empirical evaluation of whether the dimensions can be coded for reliably. Four dimensions of skill were adapted from the Motivational Interviewing Treatment Integrity (MITI) code. A further three dimensions, primarily related to appropriate use of authority, were developed in consultation with key stakeholders. The seven dimensions were used to score 133 audio recordings of direct practice. Of these, 28 (21%) were scored by three independent raters in order to test inter-rater reliability (IRR). IRR was assessed using Krippendorff’s α and Intra-class correlation (ICC). Results indicate that it is possible to reliably measure key elements of skilled communication, with Krippendorff’s α scores ranging from .461 (good) to .937 (excellent) and ICC ranging from .731 (good) to .967 (excellent). Establishing reliability provides a foundation for exploring the validity of the measure and the relationship between these skills and outcomes, as well as for further research looking at the impact of training, supervision or other methods of professional development on skills in practice. The problems and potential contribution of using such an approach are discussed. 
    • Diffusion theory and multi-disciplinary working in children’s services

      Bostock, Lisa; Lynch, Amy; Newlands, Fiona; Forrester, Donald; University of Bedfordshire; Cardiff University (Emerald Publishing, 2018-04-16)
      Purpose The purpose of this paper is to explore how innovation in children’s services is adopted and developed by staff within new multi-disciplinary children’s safeguarding teams. It draws on diffusion of innovations (DOI) theory to help us better understand the mechanisms by which the successful implementation of multi-disciplinary working can be best achieved. Design/methodology/approach It is based on interviews with 61 frontline safeguarding staff, including social workers, substance misuse workers, mental health workers and domestic abuse workers. Thematic analysis identified the enablers and barriers to implementation. Findings DOI defines five innovation attributes as essential for rapid diffusion: relative advantage over current practice; compatibility with existing values and practices; complexity or simplicity of implementation; trialability or piloting of new ideas; and observability or seeing results swiftly. Staff identified multi-disciplinary team working and group supervision as advantageous, in line with social work values and improved their service to children and families. Motivational interviewing and new ways of case recordings were less readily accepted because of the complexity of practicing confidently and concerns about the risks of moving away from exhaustive case recording which workers felt provided professional accountability. Practical implications DOI is a useful reflective tool for senior managers to plan and review change programmes, and to identify any emerging barriers to successful implementation. Originality/value The paper provides insights into what children’s services staff value about multi-disciplinary working and why some aspects of innovation are adopted more readily than others, depending on the perception of diffusion attributes.  
    • Family safeguarding Hertfordshire

      Forrester, Donald; Lynch, Amy; Bostock, Lisa; Newlands, Fiona; Cary, Alex; Preston, Bart; University of Cardiff; University of Bedfordshire (Department for Education, 2017-07-06)
      Family Safeguarding Hertfordshire is a reform of children’s services that aims to improve how these services work with families, and outcomes for children and their parents. The report evaluates the project and presents local and national lessons.
    • How do we assess the quality of group supervision? : developing a coding framework

      Bostock, Lisa; Patrizo, Louis; Godfrey, Tessa; Munro, Emily; Forrester, Donald; University of Bedfordshire; Frontline; Cardiff University (Elsevier, 2019-03-14)
      The importance of supervision for social work practice is one of the most widely accepted tenets of the profession. Yet, surprisingly little is known about what happens in supervision, making it difficult to unravel what it is about supervision that makes a difference to social work practice. This paper describes the development of a framework for assessing the quality of group supervision. It focuses on one sub-category of group supervision – systemic group supervision – and draws a wider evaluation of systemic social work practice in the UK. It is based on 29 observations of “live” of supervision to illustrate differences in quality of supervisory practice. The process of developing the coding framework was cyclical, and ultimately resulted in a three-point ordinal grouping for assessing systemic supervisory practice. Analysis of observational data assessed group systemic supervision as follows: 8 as non-systemic (28%); 12 (41%) as demonstrating some incorporation of systemic ideas into interactions, described as “green shoots” (or showing encouraging signs of development but not yet reached its full potential); and 9 (31%) supervision sessions demonstrating a full incorporation of systemic concepts and practice. What marked “systemic” sessions from “green shoots” supervision was the move from hypothesis generation about family relations and risk to children to purposeful, actionable conversations with families: the move from reflection to action. This paper supports a small but growing body of evidence about the fundamental characteristics of successful or effective supervision within children and families social work.
    • Levels of stress and anxiety in child and family social work: workers' perceptions of organizational structure, professional support and workplace opportunities in Children's Services in the UK

      Antonopoulou, Vivi; Killian, Mike; Forrester, Donald; University of Bedfordshire; University of Texas at Arlington; University of Cardiff (Elsevier, 2017-02-24)
      Child and family social workers are consistently found to have high levels of stress, and this has often been linked to burnout and retention problems in the profession. Local authorities in the UK have recently been under pressure to reform services, and one focus has been exploring how different organizational structures might reduce stress and increase well-being of workers. This paper presents data on 193 social workers from five local authorities in England. We examine the effects of different ways of organizing Children's Services on workers' wellbeing, with particular focus on the underlying relationship between organizational elements, workplace opportunities,and practitioners' work satisfaction. The primary outcome measure is the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12, Goldberg, 1978), a widely validated measure of stress. This data is presented alongside information exploring aspects of organizational structure and functioning. Results indicated significantly different levels of reported stress and general well-being in practitioners working in different local authorities. Implications for how local authorities might support staff to work productively in the stressful and challenging environment of child and family social work are discussed.
    • Putting practice at the heart of social work education: can practice skills be reliably graded by different markers in child and family social work contexts?

      Domakin, Alison; Forrester, Donald (Routledge, 2017-10-08)
      The Frontline programme is a social work qualification route, in England, which began in 2014. Students are based in statutory child and family contexts supported by an academic staff member and practice educator. The assessment strategy on the programme includes seven graded observations of students engaging in social work, marked by both staff. This paper investigates reliability of grading of direct practice between different markers on the programme. It reports findings for 30 recordings of direct observations of practice that were graded during the first cohort. These included observations graded by an academic and by a practice educator. Each was independently then graded by an academic, blind to the original score or who marked it. An acceptable level of reliability was found between the independent grader and the first mark (r =.621). In general the level of agreement was higher between the independent grader (a social work academic) and academics. In comparison, practice educators tended to give higher grades to students. Nonetheless, overall the reliability of marking suggests it is possible to agree on marks for students, which points to the potential for grading of practice to be more widely used in social work education.
    • A randomized controlled trial of training in Motivational Interviewing for child protection.

      Forrester, Donald; Westlake, David; Killian, Mike; Antonopoulou, Vivi; McCann, Michelle; Thomas, Roma; Waits, Charlotte; Whittaker, Charlotte E.; Hutchison, Dougal; Thurnham, Angela; et al. (Elsevier, 2018-02-12)
      There has been interest in developing more evidence-based approaches to child and family social work in the UK in recent years. This study examines the impact of a skills development package of training and supervision in Motivational Interviewing (MI) on the skills of social workers and the engagement of parents through a randomized controlled trial. All workers in one local authority were randomly assigned to receive the package (n = 28) or control (n = 33). Families were then randomized to trained (n = 67) or untrained (n = 98) workers. Family meetings with the worker shortly after allocation were evaluated for MI skill. Research interviews gathered data including the WAI. Follow-up interviews 20 weeks later repeated the WAI, and other outcome measures including Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS) and rating of family life. Between group analysis found statistically significant difference in MI skills, though these were not substantial (2.49 in control, 2.91 MI trained, p = .049). There was no statistically significant difference between groups in any other outcome measures. The package of training and supervision did not create sufficient increase in MI skills to influence engagement or outcomes. Implications for understanding the relationship between skills, engagement and organizational change are discussed.
    • Scaling and deepening Reclaiming Social Work model

      Bostock, Lisa; Forrester, Donald; Patrizo, Louis; Godfrey, Tessa; Zonouzi, Maryam; Bird, Hayden; Antonopoulou, Vivi; Tinarwo, Moreblessing; University of Bedfordshire; University of Cardiff (Department for Education, 2017-07-06)
      This report evaluates the Scaling and Deepening the Reclaiming Social Work Model which aimed to embed ‘Reclaiming Social Work’ in 5 very different local authorities (Buckinghamshire, Derbyshire, Harrow, Hull and Southwark). Reclaiming Social Work (RSW) is a whole-system reform that aims to deliver systemic practice in children’s services. Key elements include in-depth training, small units with shared cases and group systemic case discussions, clinician support, reduced bureaucracy, devolved decision-making and enhanced administrative support. The overall aims include improving risk assessment and decision-making, providing more effective help and risk management for children and families. Keeping families together, where appropriate, is a fundamental aim of RSW. 
    • Validity of the Working Alliance Inventory within child protection services

      Killian, Mike; Forrester, Donald; Westlake, David; Antonopoulou, Vivi (SAGE, 2015-07-27)
      The Working Alliance Inventory remains a widely studied measure of quality of therapeutic relationships between the practitioner and client. No prior study has examined the psychometrics and validity of the Working Alliance Inventory–Short (WAI-S) in a sample of families, social workers, and trained observers within child protection services. Surveys were completed by 130 families, social workers concerning 274 cases, and observers following 165 home visits during the first wave of data collected from a randomized controlled trial of child protection services. Confirmatory factor analyses were conducted on three versions of the WAI-S and demonstrated moderate to good model fit. Convergent construct validity was found with other standardized measures. Results support the use of the WAI-S during in child protection services practice and research. Future research into family engagement in child protection social work services should focus on the working relationship.
    • What does empathy sound like in social work communication? A mixed‐methods study of empathy in child protection social work practice

      Lynch, Amy; Newlands, Fiona; Forrester, Donald; University of Bedfordshire; University of Cardiff (Wiley, 2018-07-12)
      It is widely accepted that empathy is important for social work practice, yet there are multiple dimensions of empathy and comparatively few studies of empathy as a component of social work skill. To date, published studies have been quantitative, and as a result, we know little about how social workers demonstrate empathy in practice or what skilled empathic practice in child and family social work might sound like. This study contributes to the development of understanding of empathy as a social work skill through a mixed‐methods analysis of 110 audio recordings of meetings in a child protection service between workers and parents, applying a coding framework for analysis. Findings indicate that workers who demonstrate higher levels of empathy skill use more open questions and reflections in their communication with parents. Further, they demonstrate curiosity about and make efforts to understand parents' often difficult experiences, including a focus on emotions. That the majority of workers were found not to demonstrate a high level of empathy skill presents concerns to be considered by the social work profession. A deeper understanding of empathy presents an opportunity for an increased focus in organizations to enable workers to demonstrate empathy towards families they work with. 
    • What happens in child and family social work supervision?

      Wilkins, David; Forrester, Donald; Grant, Louise Jane (Wiley, 2016-08-04)
      Supervision is fundamental to the social work profession. However, increasing concern has been expressed over the managerial capture of local authority social work and the use of supervision as a way of enabling management oversight (or surveillance) of practice. Despite the importance of supervision, we have little evidence about what happens when managers and child and family social workers meet to discuss casework and less about how supervision influences practice. In this study, 34 supervision case discussions were recorded. Detailed descriptions are given of what happens in supervision. Overall, case discussions operated primarily as a mechanism for management oversight and provided limited opportunity for reflection, emotional support or critical thinking. With reference to organizational context, it is suggested that these deficits result from a system that focuses too much on ‘what and when’ things happen and not enough on ‘how and why’.
    • What is the impact of supervision on direct practice with families?

      Bostock, Lisa; Patrizo, Louis; Godfrey, Tessa; Forrester, Donald; University of Bedfordshire; Frontline; University of Cardiff (Elsevier, 2019-07-24)
      Supervision has been described as the “pivot” upon which the integrity and excellence of social work practice can be maintained.However, there is little research that examines its impact on how social workers work directly with children and their families. Where effectiveness studies exist, they tend to explore the impact of supervision on organisational and staff-related outcomes such as retention rates or worker well-being. The current study focuses on one specific sub-category of the wider supervision and practice literature: systemic group supervision or “systemic supervision” and is based on a wider evaluation of systemic social work practice in the UK. The paper pairs observations of systemic supervision (n=14) and observations of direct practice (n=18) in peoples’ homes. It presents correlational data on the relationship between supervision quality and direct practice quality to assess whether there is an association between the two practice forums. The paper demonstrates that there is a statistically significant relationship between supervision quality and overall quality of direct practice. Supervision was also associated with relationship-building skills and use of “good authority” skills; that is, practice that was more purposeful, child-focused and risks to children better articulated. Interestingly, where a clinician qualified in systemic family therapy was present in supervision, this was associated with bothimproved supervisory and direct practice quality. This suggests that there may be an important association between the discussions held in systemic supervision, particularly where a clinician is present and the quality of conversations that practitioners have with children and families. These findings contribute to a growing body of knowledge about the relationship between effective supervision and direct practice within children and families social work.
    • What is the relationship between worker skills and outcomes for families in child and family social work?

      Forrester, Donald; Westlake, David; Killian, Mike; Antonopoulou, Vivi; McCann, Michelle; Thurnham, Angela; Thomas, Roma; Waits, Charlotte; Whittaker, Charlotte E.; Hutchison, Douglas (Oxford University Press (OUP), 2019-01-28)
      Communication skills are fundamental to social work, yet few studies have directly evaluated their impact. In this study, we explore the relationship between skills and outcomes in 127 families. An observation of practice was undertaken on the second or third meeting with a family. Practice quality was evaluated in relation to seven skills, which were grouped into three dimensions: relationship building, good authority and evocation of intrinsic motivation. Outcomes at approximately six months were parent-reported engagement (Working Alliance Inventory), Goal Attainment Scaling (GAS), an eleven-point family life satisfaction rating, the Family Environment Scale and General Health Questionnaire and service outcomes from agency records including children entering care. Relationship-building skills predicted parent-reported engagement, although good authority and evocation had stronger relationships with outcome measures. Where workers visited families more often, relationships between skills and outcomes were stronger, in part because workers had more involvement and in part because these families were more likely to have significant problems. The relationship between skills and outcomes was complicated, although the findings provide encouraging evidence that key social work skills have an influence on outcomes for families.