Tuesday, October 25, 2011


by Dr. Ron Unruh

Appetizer: ...child protection workers do make mistakes, yet if there is a willingness the same workers can learn from those mistakes and improvements can be made to practice...

Among the hard realities of child protective work is that we do not live in a perfect world and there are no perfect parents. Good parents sometimes make mistakes. All parents may not meet the arbitrary standards that a social worker has developed as a model. These parents can nonetheless function capably as loving caregivers and have a right to do so. They might benefit from services offered with no attached strings and provisos. Another hard reality is that child protection workers do make mistakes, yet if there is a willingness the same workers can learn from those mistakes and improvements can be made to practice. Reluctance to learn informs superiors that these workers may not be made of the right stuff for this work.

Eileen Munro wrote a 2006 volume called "Effective Child Protection.”
One of her most poignant lines quoted from page 141 is, "The single most important factor in minimizing errors is to admit that you may be wrong." This is fundamental to turning MCFD around. I explore that premise today. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Effective-Child-Protection-Eileen-Munro/dp/1412946956/ref=dp_ob_image_bk

We would begin to minimize the mistakes that are being made in child protection if we employed the right people. Hiring and retaining the right people for child protection in British Columbia is a difficult science. I don't believe that the Ministry of Children and Family Development has yet mastered it. It's easy to be critical and I must sound like that often. If employing the right people for child protection is a priority for us, then what must be understood at the top of the stuctural chart is that there has to be a balance between acquiring people with an academic ability to meet the job demands and the emotional intelligence to work with families, colleagues and other professionals.

Did you catch that? Emotional intelligence is not to be shunned but valued. Child protection is not merely an academic exercise whereby one follows the letter of the law. This is human welfare with which we are dealing. These parents are fellow humans of the same stuff as you are social workers, and these parents are not antagonists by nature. Their adversarial buttons have been pushed sometimes by the mistaken actions of social workers who have failed to, or been unable to use emotional intelligence.

The skills and knowledge Eileen Munro thinks are needed to do the job properly include:
  • using comprehensive and rational frameworks to make decisions
  • using both current and historical information in relation to making judgements about families
  • being prepared to change their beliefs about a family based on new information i.e. not clinging to old beliefs whilst ignoring new information
  • workers testing their hypothesis about a particular judgement.
  • having a critical approach to the work they are undertaking
  • refraining from letting first impressions of the family shape case direction
These skills should be the common framework or language between the team leader and worker. A common ground that is used to measure and monitor what is happening in a family.
Mistakes will continue to be made in the helping professions. Child Protection is not immune from this. The challenge is to be proactive in developing systems that enable practitioner's to make the best decisions possible. Where mistakes are made, it is important that processes are put in place to salvage whatever lessons are possible.”

(This post inspired by the Child Protection and Youth Justice Professional Development Unit of State Government of Victoria, Australia, Department of Human Services)

1 comment:

  1. What a great essay, and definitely food for thought. In a field where social workers are telling parents to rectify their mistakes and "improve" their life/parenting skills in order to gain access to their children, they themselves should be open to improving their own performance and professionalism. Doing so would only be beneficial to everyone, so why are they so reluctant to even consider taking those steps? Why are they so unwilling to open themselves up for critique or examination when so much good could come from it?