Children’s unit uses video to encourage reflective practice

A children's home in Scotland has become the first to use video to encourage reflective practice. Jackie Cosh reports

A children’s home in Scotland has become the first to use video to encourage reflective practice. Jackie Cosh reports

Few of us feel comfortable appearing on film; fewer still would relish the prospect of being filmed at work. But when The Junction, a young persons’ unit run by Dundee Council, pioneered a new method of video staff training, the results were surprising.

After initial hesitation, staff soon forgot about the cameras, and an evaluation found that both staff and young people noticed an improvement in performance and communication.

Video Enhanced Reflective Practice (Verp), was developed by the council’s learning and workforce development officer, Calum Strathie, as a follow on from a course called The Art of Effective Communication.

Based on video interaction guidance work used with families, the training follows similar principles; interactions between staff and young people are filmed, and used to reflect upon and analyse practice.


Staff in Dundee’s young persons’ units often work a 24-hour shift pattern, so training can be difficult to organise. The Verp sessions are therefore run in small groups. A one-day theory and practice course covers learning how to use the cameras, the theory behind good communication and how to look for that in your own practice.

Ann Samson, a senior social care officer at The Junction, admits that she had reservations: “I don’t think I was alone in being very apprehensive and sceptical. I was wary about going on film and I wasn’t convinced of the value I would gain from the amount of effort I was about to make. Some young people were keen, some weren’t.”

However, she says she quickly realised the benefits of becoming more aware of how she moved and spoke around the young people. And she found it empowered young people to take more control over their interactions with staff (see box, below).

The young people were very much part of the process and time was taken to speak to them before going ahead with the project, says The Junction’s team manager, Mark MacAulay. “The trainers took time to speak to them at house meetings. If they had declined we wouldn’t have gone ahead.”

The next three workshops were at three to four-week intervals and were practice-based. Staff reflected on the recordings, some of which were relatively short. “A lot can be learned from short recordings,” says Strathie. “[Staff] were encouraged to pick out when they were doing well and reflect on success together, which enabled them to see what worked. Sometimes this is very subtle: body language, expression, tone of voice, language. Staff could see how those signals can have an impact on young people and their behaviour or response.”

It was left up to the care workers to set up the situations for filming. Over time, the camera was forgotten about. “We had to record five-minute footage, but one time I forgot and left the camera running for half an hour,” remembers Mark. “I found that I got really involved in conversations and communications.”

The young people noticed this difference. “It was good getting such a focused, one-to-one session with your key worker,” says 16-year-old Carrie-Ann Jones. “They always listen to us anyway but during the training they listened more. The camera was a bit intimidating at first, but I got over it.”

As expected, the initial evaluation brought positive results. When the young people completed a pre-course assessment, with one exception they rated the staff higher than expected. At the end of the course these ratings had increased and, again with one exception, the young people’s ratings for the staff were higher than staff had rated themselves.

A third unit is now being trained in Verp and there are plans to roll it out across all five units in Dundee. “We don’t delve into what is going wrong,” says Strathie. “It is not used to be critical or demeaning.

“It also becomes very empowering because the evidence is there. It’s not a case of me saying, ‘you did well’. People won’t accept praise if they don’t believe it themselves – but they can’t argue with video clips.”

‘After the training, relationships improved’: by Charlotte Ramsay, young person:

When I heard what we would be doing, I was a bit scared. I didn’t like the idea of being on camera, but it was interesting. At the house meeting, Calum [Strathie] had told us what it was about and what to do, so we just got right into doing it. I was a bit nervous, but after the first five minutes I would forget about the camera and we would just carry on talking. It soon became standard, having the camera there.

It was good having one-to-one time with the staff, but I also liked knowing that we were helping them. We helped them get set up, putting the camera on its stand and figured out how to record. Most of them didn’t know how to do this.

We have good relationships with the staff anyway, but I did notice that after the training things improved. They began to listen to us more, became more interested in what we wanted to talk about. We now have more chances to speak with them. As long as there is one person there to talk to and listen to me, I’m happy.”

‘I am now more aware and reflective’: By Ann Samson, senior social care officer at The Junction:

Young people were reluctant at first, until they understood the procedure. But I got them involved in the technical side, which empowered and motivated them to take part. Sometimes we pre-booked time and that was probably the best way for me, but at times I would just say, ‘do you mind if I set up the camera?’

Sometimes we would be doing activities together, such as doing our nails or baking a cake. Other times, we would be at the kitchen table, face-to-face. Either way, the conversation was caught on camera.

I put it to the young people that it was beneficial to them. A couple of kids didn’t want to get involved at all but by the end they all were. Once the initial thought about being on camera was forgotten they engaged quite readily.

It is easy to self-analyse once you have got over the feeling of, ‘is that how I sound and look?’ You could see, for example, if you weren’t giving the young person enough time to speak. I am now much more positive about the process and its worth. It gave an avenue to enhance practice; it made me more self-aware of how I present myself and how I can be seen. On a day-to-day basis, facial expression and body language becomes second nature. But I am now more aware and reflective, because I have that information to pull on. It was also empowering to see what I do well. We’re always self-critical and doubting, but there was the evidence. “

Video of Dundee care workers using Verp

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