• 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. 
    • 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.
    • 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.
    • 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 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.