Given the choice, would you rather assess alone or work in a pair.
For me, it would be a pair – every time and twice on Sundays!
Know your short-comings
I reckon I’ve been around the block in social work and allied fields (YOT, residential, adoption/fostering, child protection, etc.). But of all the things I’ve learned over the years, I’m completely convinced of one thing more than any other…
More than that, I’m very fallible.
It’s a sad indictment on those of us who’ve been around for a while, that we have both the wisdom of experience and the blindness that comes with it.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of thinking, ‘I’ve been here before, I know how this goes,’ and then falling into habits or assumptions that we frankly should know better about.
This is no more the case than in assessment – the process we all have to engage in from time to time, where we look at a child, their life, family and difficulties with a view to deciding if/how we can help.
The pitfalls of HSB assessment…
When there’s sex involved, the need to get things as right as possible is even greater. Assessing alone can be a real hazard here.
Think about it: we’re going to assess this child and their sexual behaviour, write a report about it and then share this with others. Our views will become part of the received wisdom about this child and their family.
The language we use, the conclusions we draw and the interventions we recommend will follow them for the foreseeable future. Our ability to assess well is crucial not only to the child now, it will resonate going forward and could impact how others see them. And how they see themselves!
Living arrangements, sibling relationships, family unity, education and jobs are among the things affected. And when it’s about sex, even partially, it tends to be laden with a sense of importance, caution and trepidation that can prejudice the child and their family.
We have to get it right – or at least as right as we possibly can!
Why assessing in pairs is better
Essentially, this is about safeguarding…
- The individual practitioner has the balance and scrutiny of colleagues which really helps with openness, thorough case consideration and (where possible) the lens of different disciplines
- The child is protected by this additional layer of case discussion. Given the nature of HSB cases this is particularly important to protect against wording, conclusions and reports in general (particularly about ‘risk’) that may prejudice the child unnecessarily going forward.
- The local authority has the additional layer of checks and balances that means the job is done thoroughly and well. This is important not only in terms of promoting optimal outcomes for the work we do with children, in our increasingly litigious culture it is also a double-check that is invaluable, in my view.
I recently completed a brief HSB assessment on a young person – as part of a very thorough and much broader range of issues – using James Worling’s PROFESOR tool.
Having done the work of gathering the necessary information, I was able to sit down with a colleague (a psychiatrist, as it happens) who knew the child very well, and we discussed and refined my conclusions. They became our conclusions.
The different disciplinary perspective was invaluable, as was her ability to help me think through my own assessment as a double-check.
The whole thing felt well-considered and safe. Ultimately, though, the child benefits from this most of all.
I know – having two people working on assessments is not always possible, especially where resources are scant and expertise is limited. But there are ways of being more thorough and opening up our practice to others’ without putting an excessive load on resources:
- Double-checks – if one person is conducting the assessment, then why not have a stage towards the end of the process where we discuss the findings with someone else? Make this a structured conversation where you consider all aspects of the assessment. Having to summarise our thoughts for someone else is good discipline and forces us to think through – in a slightly different way – what we’ve concluded.
- Discipline checks – if there’s a way we can have such a conversation with someone from a different discipline to us, all the better. We each have a lens through which we see our work and therefore the kids we work with. Perhaps our greatest weakness is the inability to see things, not just as another person would see them, but through the lens of another discipline altogether. YOTs particularly have access to colleagues from health, policing, education and probation. Or maybe you have a colleague who has a special interest in learning disabilities, substance mis-use or family work – why not ask them? The more lenses the better.
Having said all this, I still maintain that having two people working the assessment, start to finish, together is the best way.
Given the option, I would then still do the double-check and/or the discipline check as well, to provide the best chance of being as objective as possible – in as much as assessment can ever be so.
I have criticised HSB assessments in the past; particularly the mis-use of AIM2. But ultimately, the tool is not the issue. Any such instrument is only ever as good as the person using it.
How much better would all our assessments be if there were always at least two minds at work?
In this field in particular, perhaps, two are definitely better than one.
What do you think?…
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© Jonny Matthew 2020