• 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. 
    • Doing child-protection social work with parents: what are the barriers in practice?

      Wilkins, David; Whittaker, Charlotte E.; University of Bedfordshire; Frontline (Oxford University Press, 2017-12-28)
      For many social workers, participatory practice may seem an unachievable goal, particularly in the field of child protection. In this paper, we discuss a significant programme of change in one London local authority, as part of which we undertook 110 observations of practice and provided more than eighty follow-up coaching sessions for workers. Through these observations, we saw many examples of key participatory practice skills such as empathy, collaboration and involvement in decision making. We also saw many examples of reducing autonomy and excluding parents from decision making. Often, we found the same worker would adopt a participatory approach with one family and a non-participatory approach with another. Through coaching sessions, we explored how and why workers used different approaches and discussed the barriers to adopting a more consistently participatory approach. These discussions led us to reflect on fundamental questions relating to the purpose of child-protection social work, how social workers can best help families and what the limits might be of participation in situations of high risk. We argue that truly participatory child-protection social work requires not simply better training or different tools, but an innovation in the value base of children’s services.
    • 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.
    • 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.