Frontlines: Developing non-judgemental issues

Professionals need to consult and come to judgements slowly if they are to make sound decisions, reminds Helen Bonnick 

A young girl has been absent without a known reason for the past three days. When the mother finally responds to telephone calls from the school, it transpires that she has been truanting. The mother’s response seems cold and dismissive: “I sent her to school, I’ve done my bit.”

Another child, well known for her challenging behaviour and already on the verge of exclusion, arrives at school in an agitated and belligerent state. Her phone is confiscated after she is seen passing it round the class in the first lesson, allegedly playing a recording of her mother verbally abusing her before school. The head of year is told of the incident and replies that if she was her mother she would probably do the same.

There is a training exercise in which individuals are asked to make an assessment of a situation as they are drip-fed information. After each new nugget, of course, the interpretation changes, reminding us of the need to be slow to draw conclusions. We could probably all do with repeating such an exercise from time to time.

In the two school cases, investigation revealed more complex situations. The first parent has been suffering from depression for several years and fears the removal of her children. The head of year had already spent 10 minutes with the second child after encountering her on the way to school.

A non-judgemental attitude has always been one of the key requirements in the recruitment and training of health and social care workers.

We are beholden to this attitude not just towards our particular client group, but also towards our colleagues whether from the same or other disciplines. This can lead to tensions and should not excuse poor practice or incompetence. It is, rather, a reminder to listen more and condemn less; to seek to understand the requirements and stresses faced by colleagues in multi-disciplinary teams; to be available to puzzle and to learn together.

It is by talking and listening to each other that we can start to understand the context of our colleagues’ statements and behaviour. It is by training together that we can continue to operate from the non-judgemental principles which should underlie all that we do together.

Helen Bonnick is a supervisor of school-home support workers and a social worker

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