Imagine you receive a phone call from a school, letting you know that one of the children you work with is off sick. Intuitively, you feel that something else is wrong and decide to make a home visit, to see the child and parents and ‘check out’ your feeling.
If the child’s parents or your manager challenged you about why you made an unscheduled visit, how comfortable would you be saying it was a ‘gut instinct’, regardless of what happened during the visit? Would you feel more confident if you could rationalise it afterwards by referring to statistics that link children missing school and child protection concerns?
Run a group CPD session
In response to popular demand, Community Care Inform has now launched a brand new series of lunchtime CPD sessions to support teams or groups of colleagues to reflect on practice and develop their skills and knowledge together.
Our first session in this series looks at analysis and decision-making, based on one of our most popular guides (which has also just been updated to reflect the knowledge and skills statements for social workers). It provides approximately 90 minutes of discussion activities to develop skills and explore tools to aid decision-making that you can also use in discussions with families and service users.
David Wilkins, senior lecturer at the Tilda Goldberg Centre, University of Bedfordshire and former principal social worker at Enfield has developed Community Care Inform’s new lunchtime CPD session on analysis and decision-making.
He says understanding how intuition affects your process and being confident about this is a key part of developing your skills in this area. Here he explains the importance of instinct, plus more top tips included in the session:
“Emotions will come into decision-making whether social workers want them to or not,” Wilkins points out. The best practitioners are able to comfortably use – and recognise when they are using – both intuition and logical reasoning. Supervision is a good forum to reflect on how decisions were made and what happened as a result.
Take time to hypothesize
When you encounter a practice dilemma, take time to generate as many hypotheses as possible about what is happening. Don’t worry about coming up with the ‘right’ hypothesis or thinking of solutions at this stage; the aim is to improve analysis by expanding thinking around a problem.
For example, if you are working with a family but only ever speak to the mother and are struggling to engage the father, some hypotheses could be:
- The father is actively trying to avoid meeting with you
- He wants to meet you but hasn’t been given the opportunity
- He has met with social workers in the past and had a negative experience – not being listened to, for example
- The family have interpreted something you said to mean you don’t want or need to meet him
- You are more comfortable working with mothers than fathers
You could think of more for this example. Once hypotheses have been generated, you can start to think of what information you need to test them out and what you could do to counter the problem.
Understand confirmation bias
It’s human nature to seek out or place more trust in information that confirms our preferred view. Someone who believes that men are better drivers than women, for example, will tend to remember many examples of seeing female drivers having difficulty parking and forget all the times they have seen male drivers in the same situation. In social work we may also actively seek information to confirm our belief. If you believe a child is being maltreated, you will ask different questions during an assessment than if you believe the child is well cared for.
Simply being aware of confirmation bias is not enough to mitigate against it. You could use supervision to explore how you would approach a case if you started from the position of a completely different viewpoint about the service user and see if this informs your thinking and decision-making.
Without getting feedback on this, you may never know whether the decisions you make prove to be helpful or not or whether bias is coming in at a system-wide level.For example, if an assessment is closed with no further action, would you find out if the family is subsequently referred for similar reasons (which may indicate that closure was not the right decision)? Explore whether you obtain a personal re-referral rate and reflect on whether this can inform future assessments and decision-making.