We’ve all been in practice situations where we’ve felt exposed, at risk.

Dealing with very troubled children and families means this is going to happen. It’s inevitable, sooner or later.

Risky Practice…

It’s not that we set out to take risks – well, not usually (there is a case for positive risk-taking – that’s for a future post…).

But we all come across times when the work we do feels that way. For example:

    • Do we take this child to case conference or not?
    • Do we breach this child on their court order or not?
    • Progress is slow (or non-existent) so do I change the intervention or keep going in the hope that things will change, eventually?
    • The child isn’t really engaged yet and I’m running out of time – do I cut to the chase and just ask them or wait till they’re ready to talk?
    • Should we exclude this child from school – for the sake of the other kids – or keep them for longer in the hope things will settle?
    • I want to give this child more freedom but I’m unsure whether the time’s right? Do it? Or wait?
    • I think this placement is done – it’s broken down – or will ‘hanging in there’ a bit longer lead to a better outcome?

The Old Dilemmas…

These are really tricky situations to resolve.

Perhaps the main reason they’re a challenge is because whichever choice we make it feels risky. Risky to us: personally, may be; but professionally – definitely.

It’s an uncomfortable place to be. We want to give the child the best possible chance. Always.

But, at the same time, doing so can leave us feeling exposed. As if we’re putting ourselves in a situation where, if things go awry, the fingers may well point at us, looking for answers.

And, worse still, if things go really, REALLY pear-shaped – like loss, damage, injury or (god forbid) a death occurs – the hunt for a scapegoat might lead to our door.

3Ms Approach…

I have 3 things in my head when I face these situations. Particularly if I’m minded to go with what feels like the riskier option.


This captures the wisdom in not taking such decisions alone. Ask to meet with a senior colleague, supervisor, peer or even a small group of partner agency professionals.

Discuss the situation, present your dilemma and proposed course of action and ask for their views. Then listen.

There really can be wisdom in many counsellors! This can act as a safeguard for you – to help make sure you haven’t missed anything obvious before you go out on a limb.


Make sure you take a careful note of the discussion, any suggestions and the decisions you arrive at.

Even have the meeting/discussion formally minuted, if you think that’ll be necessary and/or helpful.

But usually a copious note will do, so your case recording captures what you talked about. This means there’s a record of a process before any decisions were made.


If you then take the plunge and continue with a practice piece that feels a bit risky – for whatever reason – you have a firm basis for doing so.

But, you must then keep the situation continually under review – monitor it well and regularly.

Look out for changes in circumstances, the emergence of new information, or changes in the engagement of the folk you’re working with. You’re then well-placed to respond and, if needs be, to re-consider things.

Final word…

We’ll never be able to engineer all the risk out of our work. We’re in the wrong field for that!

But we can be diligent to seek out the advice and guidance of others, record things well and maintain vigilance as we proceed, such that we minimise the risk to us and maximise the chances of helping troubled children to recover.

Remember, all it takes is: Meet, Minute & Monitor!

*  – Learn more about Jonny’s book here…

What do you think?…

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© Jonny Matthew 2023

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