I get a bit tired of the term “child-centred practice.”
Not because I disagree with the idea – but because I rarely see it in action!

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/bas121

Photo courtesy of ©123rf/bas121

So how do we work together effectively?…

We all believe in the principle of working together as different agencies, right? But it’s still a hard one to pull it off in practice.
You know how it goes:

  • Our role is to… not to…
  • Resources don’t allow us to…
  • That’s outside our remit…

Basically our agency, financial, role-specific and other considerations get in the way. We find ourselves defending a position, protecting a budget or sticking to our prescribed job.
And we lose any chance of effective collaboration. But we actually lose a lot more than that…
The problem with all of this is that we lose the young person. Other things take over and steal the focus.
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We’re so accountable we lose the child…

The reason we work with children and young people is that they need us to.
The difficulties arise thereafter when things start to become about us. Not them. Here lies the rub…

  • If we protect our budget – we do the minimum necessary – because it’s the money that’s driving it
  • If we’re rigid in our roles – we back-off when it looks like we’re getting into territory outside our remit
  • If we only offer the services we think will help – we miss the huge insights children can offer about what they want/need

In short – if the child isn’t central, then we are, or something else is. And if we’re central, who are we really serving?…

A team approach…

I’ve just got back from another visit to a team of folk working with some very complex young people.
They and their colleagues from other agencies are making it work, keeping the child central and seeing massive gains in…

  • Levels of engagement of children and young people
  • Speed of progress in cases where inertia has ruled the day for months, sometimes years
  • Greater co-operation between agencies without the noisy and obstructive politics we’re all used to

How are they doing it? They assess the child together.

1 table, 1 timeline, 8 staff…

We use a method called team formulation. It’s not a new concept, but it’s a rarely used one – at least in Children’s Services.
Here’s what happens:

  • Everyone who’s involved with the child and/or family gathers for the meeting.
    Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Cathy Yeulet (Not a timeline photo - ironically, I couldn't find one!)

    Photo courtesy of ©123rf/Cathy Yeulet (Not a timeline photo – ironically, I couldn’t find one!)

  • We all sit around a table on which is stretched a long roll of blank lining paper.
  • The person who knows the child the best gives everyone a summary of where the child is currently “at.”
  • Then the historical information – all of it – about the child and family is shared
  • Everyone asks questions, adds information and discusses the “facts” of the case
  • Each piece of information is mapped on the lining paper, forming a timeline
  • A clinical psychologist forms a view of where things went wrong developmentally and what the pressing issues are for the intervention
  • Lastly, we agree a series of recommendations and actions going forward (who will do what, when and in what order)

That’s it.
And the progress we’ve seen in these cases has been marked. Really marked.
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Why does it work?…

It works because our interventions and practice focus mirror our physical situation – they are gathered around the child.
The child we are all here to help is central. Their life is spread out before us. Their needs are graphically illustrated on the paper – every…

  • house move
  • loss or bereavement
  • experience of trauma or abuse
  • school transition
  • health problem
  • every family crisis
  • everything

…is plain for all to see. It’s quite a startling thing the first time you see it. The suffering of these kids go through is astonishing.

Invest to save…

This meeting is about two hours long and requires everyone involved to be there. When we get this right, you see a very quick return on the time investment:

  • Being on the “same page” (literally!) builds focus
    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Palto

    Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto/Palto

  • Inter-agency relationships improve as we begin to co-operate
  • People become proactive and think creatively
  • They start to offer suggestions and defer to each other
  • New information comes to light and informs the process
  • There’s a palpable sense of, “we’re really doing something good here,” and, best of all…

We’re all talking about the child. Not about ourselves.

Final word

When I’m in one of these team formulations, I’m always struck by the nature and the sheer amount of trouble, grief and heart-ache these children go through.
When you see it all laid out in front of you, all in one place, it’s shocking. Once again, I’m left with one overwhelming conviction…
They deserve better than for us to lose sight of it, to lose sight of them and get distracted by lesser things.
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What do you think?

  • What have you done to improve your working together with other agencies/colleagues?
  • What gets in the way? How have you overcome these things?
  • Please add your comments to this post – click here or scroll down…

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© Jonny Matthew 2016