• Balancing risk and protective factors: how do social workers and managers analyse referrals that may indicate children are at risk of significant harm?

      Wilkins, David (Oxford University Press, 2013-09-07)
      This paper is based upon the findings of a qualitative study of how child protection social workers and social work managers analyse referrals. The study involved interviews with eighteen participants based on four vignettes of children potentially at risk of emotional, physical or sexual abuse or neglect. Three themes in particular are discussed—the balancing of risk, protective and resilience factors; the use of family history and the child's wider circumstances; and ‘known’ and ‘unknown’ unknowns (‘missing information’). These findings are considered in relation to the potential use of actuarial risk assessment tools or Structured Decisions Making tools in child protection social work. The first of two conclusions is that when given adequate space and time the participants tended to be to be reflective and analytical, but that difficulties remained in their ability to analyse the referrals, in particular with the identification of protective or resilience factors and in the balancing of risk and protective or resilience factors in relation to individual children. The second conclusion is that social workers and managers may benefit from assistance in identifying protective and resilience factors (and distinguishing between protective factors and resilience factors) in particular and this may offer a focus for the introduction of structured tools as a way to support current practice rather than to replace it.
    • Child abuse: en evidence base for confident practice

      Corby, Brian; Shemmings, David; Wilkins, David (Open University Press, 2012-11-01)
      This best-selling text has been used by countless students, practitioners and researchers as a key reference on child protection issues. The book demystifies this complex and emotionally-charged area, outlining research, history, social policy and legislation, as well as the theory and practice underpinning child protection work.  Written by influential academics and practitioners, this updated edition looks at child protection practices in a global context and provides: * The latest research and thinking on the causes of child abuse, including new insights from the field of attachment theory * An updated overview of child protection practices, ranging from the 19th Century to the recent 'Baby P' tragedy * Detailed analysis and coverage of the Munro review of child protection in England and the work of the Social Work Reform Board * Insights into the difficulties in understanding risk and protective factors – and suggestions for new ways of approaching and assessing this area Using examples to highlight key discussions and points, this book will enhance the confidence, knowledge and skills of practitioners, supervisors and managers.
    • Does reflective supervision have a future in English local authority child and family social work?

      Wilkins, David (Emerald, 2017-09-06)
      Purpose – (1) to discuss the underlying assumption that social workers need reflective supervision specifically, as opposed to managerial or any other form of supervision or support; and (2) to consider whether our focus on the provision of reflective supervision may be preventing us from thinking more broadly and creatively about what support local authority child and family social workers need and how best to provide it. Methodology/approach – Argument based on own research and selective review of the literature Findings – Reflective supervision has no future in local authority child and family social work because (1) there is no clear understanding of what reflective supervision is, (2) there is no clear evidence for is effectiveness, and (3) a sizeable proportion of local authority child and family social workers in England do not receive reflective supervision and many never have. Originality/value – Challenges the received wisdom about the value of reflective supervision and advocates exploring alternative models for supporting best practice in child and family social work.
    • 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.
    • Evaluating the quality of social work supervision in UK children's services: comparing self-report and independent observations

      Wilkins, David; Khan, Munira; Stabler, Lorna; Newlands, Fiona; Mcdonnell, John; Cardiff University; University of Bedfordshire; London Borough of Islington (Springer, 2018-12-31)
      Understanding how different forms of supervision support good social work practice and improve outcomes for people who use services is nearly impossible without reliable and valid evaluative measures. Yet the question of how best to evaluate the quality of supervision in different contexts is a complicated and as-yet-unsolved challenge. In this study, we observed 12 social work supervisors in a simulated supervision session offering support and guidance to an actor playing the part of an inexperienced social worker facing a casework-related crisis. A team of researchers analyzed these sessions using a customized skills-based coding framework. In addition, 19 social workers completed a questionnaire about their supervision experiences as provided by the same 12 supervisors. According to the coding framework, the supervisors demonstrated relatively modest skill levels, and we found low correlations among different skills. In contrast, according to the questionnaire data, supervisors had relatively high skill levels, and we found high correlations among different skills. The findings imply that although self-report remains the simplest way to evaluate supervision quality, other approaches are possible and may provide a different perspective. However, developing a reliable independent measure of supervision quality remains a noteworthy challenge.
    • A golden thread? The relationship between supervision, practice, and family engagement in child and family social work

      Wilkins, David; Lynch, Amy; Antonopoulou, Vivi; University of Bedfordshire (John Wiley & Sons Ltd., 2018-03-25)
      Within the social work profession, supervision is highly valued. Yet it is not clear how supervision supports good practice or how supervision makes a difference for children and families. In this study, using paired observations of group supervision and family meetings alongside interviews with parents, we explored the link between supervision, practice, and engagement. Considering each data set separately, we found a range of skill levels within the supervision discussions and in the meetings with families. Parents reported generally high levels of satisfaction with the service and in relation to their individual worker. But more importantly, we found a “golden thread” between certain elements of supervision, more skilful practice, and improved parental engagement. We discuss these key elements in detail and consider what these findings tell us about good supervision and what difference it can make for families and children.
    • How is supervision recorded in child and family social work? an analysis of 244 written records of formal supervision

      Wilkins, David (Blackwell Publishing Ltd, 2016-10-20)
      Written records belie the complexity of social work practice. And yet, keeping good records is a key function for social workers in England (and elsewhere). Written records provide a future reference point for children, especially those in public care. They are foundational for the inspection of children's services. They provide practitioners and managers with an opportunity to record their thinking and decisions. They add to result from and cause much of the bureaucratic maze that practitioners have to navigate. As part of a wider study of child and family social work practice, this paper describes an analysis of more than 200 written records of supervision. These records primarily contain narrative descriptions of activity, often leading to a set of actions for the social worker to complete - what they should do next. Records of why these actions are necessary and how the social worker might undertake them are usually absent, as are records of analytical thinking or the child's views. This suggests that written records of supervision are not principally created in order to inform an understanding of the social work decision-making process; rather, they are created to demonstrate management oversight of practice and the accountability of the practitioner.
    • How not to observe social workers in practice

      Wilkins, David; Antonopoulou, Vivi; University of Bedfordshire (Routledge, 2017-06-19)
      The home visit is central to the practice of contemporary child and family social work, yet we know comparatively little about what social workers use them for and how. Descriptions of practice and policies and procedures that overlook the emotional, physical and relational complexity of the home visit will inevitably miss something important about the social work role. More and more researchers are using observational methods to produce descriptions of home visit practices, while the Department for Education has been trialing observations as part of a national accreditation programme in England. Local authorities for many years have been engaged in observations of students and newly-qualified workers. However, none of these developments mean that observing social workers in practice and on a wider scale is straight-forward. This paper describes an attempt to introduce regular observations of social work practice in three inner London local authorities—and discusses how and why this attempt failed. By so doing, we hope to provide helpful lessons for others who may be thinking of using observations of practice more widely within their own authorities or as part of a research project.
    • Ofsted and children’s services: what performance indicators and other factors are associated with better inspection results?

      Wilkins, David; Antonopoulou, Vivi; University of Bedfordshire; Cardiff University (Oxford University Press, 2018-11-26)
      ‘Failing’ an Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills (Ofsted) inspection has severe consequences for a local authority. Senior managers may lose their jobs and the workforce as a whole can be destabilised. In extreme cases, central government can decide the authority is no longer capable of running children’s services. On the other hand, receiving positive Ofsted judgements often brings with it a national reputation for excellence. This study reports the findings of an analysis of key performance indicators, expenditure and deprivation in relation to Ofsted inspections for eighty-seven local authorities in England undertaken between 2014 and 2016. Our aim was to examine the association between these factors and Ofsted judgements. Our findings suggest that, for most of the factors we considered, there is no clear pattern of better or worse performance between local authorities with different Ofsted ratings. However, ‘good’ and ‘outstanding’ authorities tend to outperform other authorities in relation to some procedural variables. By itself, the level of local-authority deprivation was most clearly associated with the Ofsted rating and expenditure was associated with the authority’s deprivation level, but not their Ofsted judgement. Comparisons are made with the Department of Education’s concept of ‘value-added’ education in relation to schools.
    • Simulating supervision: how do managers respond to a crisis?

      Wilkins, David; Jones, Rebecca (Taylor & Francis, 2017-08-28)
      Supervision is fundamental to child and family social work practice, in England as elsewhere, yet there is little research regarding what managers and social workers do when they meet to discuss the families they are working with. Recent years have seen a growing interest in the use of simulated clients and Objective Structured Clinical Exams to help develop and evaluate the abilities of social workers and students. This paper describes a study of 30 simulated supervision sessions between English social work managers and an actor playing the role of a student social worker in need of support. The simulation concerns a referral regarding an incident of domestic abuse. During the simulations, managers typically asked closed questions to obtain more information before providing solutions for the supervisee in the form of advice and direction. There was little evidence of emotional support for the social worker, nor empathy with the family. Managers typically acted as expert problem-solvers. The implications of this are discussed in relation to current theoretical models of supervision for child and family social work and in relation to how Children’s Services responds to domestic abuse.
    • Using Q methodology to understand how child protection social workers use attachment theory

      Wilkins, David (Wiley, 2016-02-19)
      Child and family social workers in England are expected to integrate theory and research into their practice. This study investigated how a small sample of social workers from three Local Authorities in Southern England used key ideas from contemporary attachment theory when working with children who may have been abused or neglected. Twenty-four social workers completed a Q-sort of 49 items. Four factors emerged from the data, each representing a distinct collective perspective – the use of attachment theory (1) to enable a focus on and better understanding of the child; (2) to enable social workers to take clear decisions and interview purposefully; (3) to emphasize the primacy of relationships and ethical partnership working and (3) as a general framework for understanding and helping parents. These factors are described alongside a discussion of the implications for the use of theory and research in practice.
    • What does supervision help with? a survey of 315 social workers in the UK

      Wilkins, David; Antonopoulou, Vivi (Taylor & Francis (Routledge): STM, Behavioural Science and Public Health Titles, 2018-03-01)
      What does social work supervision help with? There are many different models of supervision and an increasing amount of research. Much of this is concerned with the content of supervision and how supervisors (and supervisees) should behave — and these are important concerns. But even more important is the question of who or what supervision helps with. Supervision is widely considered to have many different functions but in the context of UK local authority social work, must ultimately prove itself as a method for helping people who use services. This article reports on a survey of 315 social workers from UK local authorities. Most reported that supervision helps primarily with management oversight and accountability. However, the small number of practitioners who received regular group supervision and those who received supervision more frequently said it helped with a much broader range of things.
    • 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’.