By Ali Gardner, senior lecturer (social work), Manchester Metropolitan University
At the heart of personalisation is the commitment to a strengths-based model of practice, in which we see the individual as an expert in their own life and in designing their support. The role of the practitioner is to facilitate and enable support to be delivered in a way that makes sense to the service user.
In order to carry out that role effectively in practice, students need to develop and value the importance of relationship-based practice, as described by Trevithick (2003), in particular an appreciation of the influence our knowledge base, skills and personal qualities will bring to our practice.
Both personalisation and relationship-based practice recognise that working relationships founded on empathy, warmth and genuineness on the part of the worker, as described by Carl Rogers in 1951, are required if we are to create active partnerships with service users. It should be no surprise to us therefore, that service users, in research carried out by Beresford et al (2011), reported, above everything else, the importance of the relationship they have with their social worker and stated that it provided a crucial starting point for getting help and support on equal terms.
Taking these same principles and applying them to a learning environment, social work students can begin to develop their skills and knowledge in preparation for social work practice, whilst also benefiting individually from this approach. The adoption of one-page profiles at Manchester Metropolitan University has allowed social work students to experience the process of identifying and sharing their own strengths and support needs with their fellow students and tutors.
A simple summary of what is important to the person
One-page profiles provide a simple summary of what is important to someone and how they want to be supported in a person-centred way (Sanderson & Lewis, 2012).
At the beginning of the programme, students receive training and complete their own one-page profile. As a result, they experience what it feels like to share information about themselves, giving them some perspective of how this might feel for service users who are constantly expected to share personal information with relative strangers. In so doing, they develop self-awareness and focus on the personal qualities they bring to social work. Similarly, they start to recognise the personalised nature of the support they require and can compare this with fellow students.
Tutors also share their one-page profiles, generating a subtle shift in power as this reciprocal exchange breaks down barriers and the student has a window into the tutor’s life, past that of the university building. Together the student and tutor can begin to see how their working relationship can be maximised as they identify what is important to them in their respective roles.
One-page profiles can be used to develop personalised learning within the curriculum. At MMU, we are currently exploring options to personalise some of the 30 skills development days on the social work course..
Students will work towards a group page profile that will identify the strengths, gifts, skills and appreciations of the tutors and students as a whole. This will be used to provide a strong identity as a member of the MMU community, but also a basis upon which change can be responsive and negotiated to improve the learning environment and the overall student experience.
Students’ one-page profile will form the front page of the professional development portfolio that forms part of their assessment of readiness for direct practice. Students will adapt this one-page profile in preparation for their first placement with a view to sharing it with their practice educator and team at an appropriate time.
The one-page profile will focus the support the student needs on placement and identify the strengths and skills they bring to practice. Students will continue to adapt and develop their one-page profile as they progress through their training with a view to developing a one-page profile that they can share with potential employers at an appropriate stage of the recruitment process.
The importance of tutors being on board with this approach is central as students experience the power dynamics within hierarchal institutions and can model or challenge the way they are played out in the student-tutor relationship. Additionally, the students are provided with a useful, accessible tool that enables them to identify and share their strengths and support needs as a student social worker across a range of academic and practice situations that they will encounter as they progress through the programme.
What do the students think?
It has been useful to experience what it feels like to share information about myself with others. It makes you realise how hard it must be for service users to keep sharing personal information. Surely if I can share a little bit about me, it would make it a bit easier for them.
I am going to use it in my personal life so my family can see the support I need from them to help me study and be a good mum
It gives a two way understanding for service user and social worker. It feels more equal
What do the tutors think?
This was one of the hardest things I have been asked to do. I trained at a time when professional distance was seen to underpin practice. Sharing personal information was definitely not promoted. I’m glad I have shared my one-page profile with students and I had an honest discussion about how it felt to do so.
It can really open up honest discussion at the beginning of a working relationship between myself and the students and I can start to consider how my support can be adapted to students needs at the beginning of the process rather than having to get to know the students well first.
This has given me a good opportunity to get in touch with the importance of relationship-based practice. It can be so busy and frantic at the beginning of the course but this has given a genuine opportunity to find out more about individual students and for them to see that I am more than a lecturer.
One-page profiles have been criticised for having little value other than gloss or garnish, but it may just be possible that one-page profile can be used as a practical tool in enabling professionals and service users to engage with each other in a very different way. Similarly, personalisation has often been targeted as a façade for cutting costs, fragmenting services and breaking down the collective voice, but it’s hard to find anyone who disagrees with the fundamental principles of choice, independence, inclusion and control underpinning a social model approach to delivering support.
Simple, but not simplistic
The part we get stuck on is how to implement changes that reflect these aspirations. As a result we sometimes focus on the process blockages and attribute this to an assumed flaw in the theory. This then makes it more difficult to engage with new practices and tools as we have already, dismissed (sometimes unknowlingly), the theory upon which they are based. One-page profiles are relatively simple, but it does not automatically follow, that the result, therefore, will be minimal or simple.
This might emerge from research that is currently been undertaken to evaluate one-page profiles by Dr Sarah Carr. But it is also important that, as professionals and students, we remain open-minded and avoid playing out the very rhetoric that we are trying to resist.
By this, I would suggest that one-page profiles could be a useful, accessible, relatively straightforward and inexpensive tool that can support a person-centred approach, both within the learning environment and in social work practice. One-page profiles are not, and do not claim to be, a panacea to delivering person-centred support. But they have the potential to establish relationships between service users and social workers, and between students and tutors, on a more genuine, equal footing, providing a platform and medium for the work that we are striving to undertake.
Trevithick, P (2003) Effective relationship based practice: a theoretical exploration. Journal of Social Work Practice. Vol 17, No 2, 2003 p 167-176
Social Care Institute for Excellence (2013) Getting to Know You, accessed from website, 2 December 2013
Sanderson, H & Lewis, J (2012) A practical guide to delivering personalisation: person-centred practice in health and social care. London: Jessica Kingsley
Helen Sanderson Associates website, accessed 2 December 2013