Major conference urges uptake of Reclaiming Social Work Model

Social workers should seek to implement relationship-based practice models in order to deliver better outcomes for service users, a BASW-sponsored conference was told.

Speaking at the Transforming Social Work and Social Care in the 21st Century conference, NHS family therapist Nick Pendry was among the many voices offering support for a systemic approach to focusing on the key relationships in a child’s life: “It is relationships that ultimately create and sustain meaning across time, so it is to relationships we must look in order to effect long term change and deliver the best outcomes we can.

“Moving away from a deficit-based, pathologising approach is something which can help not only families but practitioners themselves, we need to take a broad view of what constitutes a relationship and include our own practice in that, something that has to be supported by good working structures.”

This systemic model has been a keystone of Hackney Borough Council’s Reclaiming Social Work model, which has seen a 40% reduction in the number of children being taken into care over the past five years. The initiative has been hailed as a ‘beacon of best practice’ by Professor Eileen Munro in her report on child protection earlier in 2011, who applauded its move away from ‘conveyer belt social work’.

Julie Rook, a consultant social worker in the Hackney team, outlined the importance of extending the empathic approach beyond the field and into case recording and administrative procedures.

While acknowledging the time pressures many social workers face, Ms Rook said: “The words we use and the stories we tell go a long way to defining the reality of service users. Although recording is often seen as the last thing to get done, it is vital that we move away from a bullet-point, tick-box approach and toward something more narratalogical. We must look to record systemically, it cannot be right that you could potentially cut and paste case notes and see little difference.”

Karen Schiltroth, also a consultant social worker, highlighted the importance of “unit working” in the model, telling delegates: “Cutting through the bureaucracy on behalf of the service user is important – the unit model means that there is always someone available who knows the specifics of a case and can therefore help.”

Another speaker at the event, Professor David Shemmings, took a step back from the Reclaiming Social Work model to offer a more overarching summary: “At root, empathy is everything, so much of what we know, and so many of the predictors we use currently, are not borne out statistically – we must try to move away from confirmation bias and get people to talk; talking is key.”

He also offered a more practical perspective: “I implore social workers to do two things – turn up to meetings on time and keep up to date with current publications an research.”

Social Work Reclaimed: Innovative Frameworks for Child and Family Social Work Practice edited by Steve Goodman and Isabelle Trowler, originators of the Reclaiming Social Work Model, was published last month.