An emphasis on what makes good practice

As a recently qualified social worker, I’ve had lots of opportunities over my short career to work with excellent practitioners who demonstrate good practice while developing my own ability and beliefs around what makes good practice.

I qualified in July 2022 and completed my Assessed and Supported Year in Employment (ASYE) in January 2024. However, my first experience of working for Children’s Social Care goes back to 2017 when I began working in the Multi Agency Safeguarding Hub as a MASH enquiry coordinator. This was undoubtedly my first insight into what makes good practice as I could observe social workers supporting families and making decisions that frequently carried a high level of risk.

Along with discussions with families and occasionally young people themselves, they used extensive frameworks, pathways, and research to inform their decisions around the appropriate level of support for young people. For me, this stuck out as a fundamental area of good practice; the ability to make decisions that balance rights-based practice alongside risk(s) of harm while also using evidence-informed practice. This evidence was particularly important since the workers often just had a snapshot of a child’s life and lived experience and were required to make decisions just on that basis.

When I started my degree in 2019, having had this experience of working alongside social workers, my experience of what makes good practice was very different to now. I remember thinking it was solely measured on my knowledge and application of thresholds documents such as the Continuum of Need or child protection legislation.

I was completely missing a crucial element which now feels so blatantly obvious; the ability to form and maintain relationships. I’ve come to learn that the most comprehensive plans can be developed and targeted interventions put in place but if there isn’t a good working relationship, there won’t be the buy-in required from families, carers, children, and young people to bring about positive, meaningful, and sustained change.

During my student social worker placement in 2021, my practice education was brilliant and gave me excellent opportunities and confidence to build and develop my relationships with families. I was driven to be creative with developing my working relationships and building the trust required from families. Sometimes I was setting up a video games console in one of the meetings rooms to play Rocket League with a teenager I worked with. Other times I was using the kitchen to bake brownies with young people. We’d use the cooking and cooling time to either chat or do more formalised direct work with worksheets.

There was a twofold benefit to these sessions as they not only built the relationships but I was often able to incorporate what was discussed – including likes and dislikes, worries, or safe people – within the Child in Need and Child Protection plans, which is of course another well-known area of good practice.

Since finishing my ASYE and working with more situations involving risk and child protection, I feel good practice involves managing our own anxiety and often managing other professionals’ anxiety too. If this anxiety isn’t managed, there’s a danger of becoming a risk-adverse practitioner which could result in practice becoming oppressive and not child-centred.

In response, it’s entirely understandable for families to not afford us that trust and time that we rightly should have to work on to earn. In the situations that are more clearly involving risk, there’s a need to be as compassionate as we are assertive.

I think if I had to choose just one thing that makes good practice, it would be time. It takes time to build those relationships which provide the best chance of obtaining the most accurate insight into a family’s needs and circumstances. It also takes time to write, look through, and confidently know records – another important aspect of ensuring a family gets the best outcome.

Crucially, it takes time to take a step back and reflect with managers or colleagues to make sure that decisions are right for the family and not impacted by factors such as being risk-adverse and also so that the worker themselves feels supported.

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