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Write a critically reflective analysis of your current development, focusing on professionalism. Discuss how you would like to develop your practice and knowledge during your first year as a qualified social worker. Your essay should draw on the concepts of professionalism discussed in Learning Guide 9, and aspects of theory and practice discussed in three other learning guides (selected from Learning Guides 1–9 only).
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Within this essay I will be reflectively analysing and discussing my current level of professionalism by linking this with examples of my practice within my placement opportunity. My interpretation of professionalism is adhering to regulatory bodies’ code of conduct, being aware of ethics and values, being a component and autonomous worker by using skills, humanity and support to empower and advocate for service users and communities by continuing to develop knowledge and skills by keeping them up to date and taking responsibility for improving practice. I will be focusing on professionalism and discussing my future development as a practitioner during my first year as a qualified social worker by drawing on concepts of professionalism discussed in Learning Guide 9: Supporting and developing resilience and my chosen three other learning guides which are, Learning Guide 3: Language, narratives and service user partnerships, Learning Guide 6: Working with uncertainty and risk and Learning Guide 8: Defining problems and finding solutions in social work practice. To respect confidentiality and adhere to Data protection act 2018, I will using initials for anonymity. Within my practice learning opportunity I am based within a Criminal Justice Social Work team within a local authority. Part of my roles and responsibilities within my capacity as a student social worker is preparation of reports for the courts and supervise service users who where made subject to a Community Payback Order (Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010. Supervising service users on a Community Payback Order includes completing risk assessments and case management plans, adhering to policies and procedures and working collaboratively with other professionals, service users and family members. I am required to ensure service users are complying with their order and the requirements attached including attending supervision with myself and completing offence focused work in relation to their offending behaviour. I am required to work with service users to achieve effective change in which is achieved through building relationships and one way in which this can be accomplished is through language in practice particularly the importance of talk.
Part of professionalism is to be able to communicate open, honestly and have interpersonal skills through the use of language. In learning guide 3: language, narratives and service user partnerships, looks at the importance of spoken language. The use of talk is virtual to any working relationship whether it be with service users or other professionals that I am collaboratively working with. I ensure that when I am communicating with service users that I do not show anti oppressive practice I ‘communicate in an appropriate, open, accurate and straightforward way’ (Scottish Social Service Council) and not use any social work jargon as I am aware of any power imbalances which could be felt. I think it is important to try and establish trust and build a relationship with service users so they feel that they can be open and honest with myself in order to engage with them appropriately. In learning guide 3, it emphasises the importance of talk by highlighting ‘each individual social work encounter and working relationship has scope to ‘create quality through the words we use and the way that we talk to people’ (The Open University, 2019). I was initially nervous when starting within my practice learning opportunity as I had no previous experience working within a criminal justice setting prior so therefore I had little knowledge of initial meetings with service users and how I could complete offence focused work to look at reducing re-offending behaviour and promote desistance from crime. To help ease my apprehensiveness during my first couple of weeks I shadowed fellow team members to increase my confidence as I observed skilled and experienced professionals. I carried out research to help further enhance my knowledge and skills. Walter et. al (2004) discussed the importance of research and how it should be thoroughly embedded. One thing I learned was that the service users group I was working with where involuntary clients. Involuntary clients are people who are receiving social work intervention without asking for the support such as mandated by law such as within Criminal Justice. Within Criminal Justice, social work intervention is imposed on the service users by a decision from the Sheriff at Court for Social Workers to be involved to monitor the requirements of the order and offer support within areas of their lives that they may require assistance with. This can be seen as a care and control aspect of social work particularly when working with ‘involuntary clients’ in which Barber (1991) describes ‘adopting the role of ‘negotiator’ ‘which recognises that the interaction between the involuntary service user and social worker is defined by associations of authority and is regarded more as conflict than cooperation’. Within my practice learning opportunity I worked with a service user who for the purpose of this essay will be known as NS. NS had been convicted of driving offences and was reluctant to accept responsibility for his actions and behaviour. A Community Payback Order was imposed including a requirement to attend a Road Traffic Group. NS expressed early on in his order a dislike to complete offence focused work and when I discussed group work with him during one supervision session he became irate and discussed his frustration in regards to the order including using inappropriate language to express his anger towards myself. I explained to NS the importance of him complying with his order and why offence focused work was important in respect to addressing his offending behaviour. Initially I was taken aback at his outburst however I was able to critically reflect on the intervention during supervision with my practice educator. ‘Critical reflection is being open-minded, considering reflective approaches that take into perspective various different experiences and assumptions’ (Glaister, A, 2008). I was able to talk openly about the difficult intervention and critically reflecting on my personal practice by using supervision. By using supervision and reflecting critically regarding my intervention and ways to engage with NS given his involuntary stance of social work involvement I was able to take into account different perspectives and approaches I could use to engage NS and work with him in which my involvement would make a positive difference. I decided that during my next meeting with him I would use a Task Centre Practice (Reid & Epstein, 1972) I used this method of intervention to ask open-ended questions and requested NS formulate a list of areas he would like to address through focused work. By using a task centred approach I felt promoted NS to participate (BASW, 2016) and be involved in discussion. I used the use of language through communication to discuss the targets and goals in which NS highlighted as important to him. I felt this allowed NS to feel empowered as it allowed him to recognize that he has the ability to do something about his situation and decision making which affected his life. Task centred approach looks at the targets/ goals, tasks involved and time limits that are potentially achievable and realistic. I actively listened throughout which achieved a good form of communication. I used the exchange model (Smale, Tuson, Biehal & Marsh 1993) the model looks at people being the experts in their own situation and encourages service users to identify internal resilience and their potential through exchanging of information. I felt that during our conversation NS was able to identify and build on his individual strengths (BASW, 2016) through the power of talk this allowed him to construct his experiences and through the model of task centred approach he was able to take control and think of the changes he wanted to make in his life. After my meeting with NS my practice educator requested feedback from him. Ferguson’s (2011) states ‘that allowing people to express their feelings can promote trust and that this in turn facilitates the use of ‘good authority’. My practice educator discussed during supervision the feedback he gained which was positive. NS said that he felt respected and that I showed him empathy when he discussed the difficulties he faced in his life. I feel I have improved my skill of communication and the power of talk which is an important aspect of social work and to develop my practice and knowledge further during my first year as a qualified social worker I would like to attend training in relation to working with involuntary clients including researching further how to engage service users that are resistant to change.
Another area that I developed to further increase my professionalism was my interview skills particularly for completion of Criminal Justice Social Work reports. A Criminal Justice Social Work report is prepared by Social Workers and is submitted on request from the sentencing Court. The purpose of a Criminal Justice Social Work Report is to assist the sentencing court to determine the most appropriate disposal to impose on the offender. My role is to interview the offender and gather information such as personal background and circumstances of the offender, history of offending and response to previous disposals and attitude of current offence etc for completion of the report. Kadushin and Kadushin’s (1997: 3) state that ‘the most important and used skill in social work skill is interviews’. In Learning Guide 3, I was introduced to Cooper, B. (2008) ‘Constructive first engagement: best practice in social work interviewing – keeping the child in mind’ it made me deconstruct my own interviews that I had conducted where I was able to critically reflect on my experiences to enable me to enhance my skills and further develop them as my practice learning opportunity progressed. To help me critically reflect on my progress I used David Schon’s learning, ‘reflection and change’ (Schon (1983) I found this beneficial as it helped me learn through discovery and experience. I used the reflection-in-action and reflection-on-action this helped with my professional development. This critical reflection allowed me to developed, change and improved my practice. Critically reflecting on my practice allowed me to think of ‘Narrative Social Work, theory and practice’ (Roscoe, et, al, 2011) which is a process of sharing, checking and validating the information that is disclosed to me during the interview process. Narrative Social Work has introduced a three stage democratic model of engagement, deconstruction and re-authoring. ‘It is a conversation between theory and practice that can help develop social workers in a more reflective way’ (Roscoe et al, 2011). I was able to use informal supervision with my colleagues and link worker to discuss my interviews with service users and discuss ways to increase my confidence and better my practice to increase my professional identity as I utilised support to increase my resilience and develop my knowledge. Glasister (2008) states that as ‘critical practitioners must be skilled and knowledgeable and remain open to alternative ideas and frameworks and recognising and valuing alternative perspectives’. To continue and develop my practice and knowledge during my first year as a qualified social worker I would like to continue and learn about interview skills particularly in relation to child and adult protection.
Once I have interviewed service users for the criminal justice social work report I then with the information I have gained compile a report. Pati (2010) ‘How to write a good report’ provided me with tips and advice on report writing including what I should avoid. When I completed reports I ensured that the information I had recorded was accurate and clear for the readers to understand. The reports that I complete are for the Scottish Courts and because I am a student social worker on placement my reports are required to be countersigned by my line manager who is a Senior Social Worker or by my Link worker who is a Senior Practitioner. I have received positive feedback from my line manager and my link worker regarding the content and my progress of report writing. Receiving feedback from my line manager really increased my confidence as she was able to see my development throughout the placement. Receiving positive feedback and acknowledging my own progression and development regarding interviewing and report writing has allowed me to be more of an autonomous worker.
An example within my current practice learning opportunity is when I was working with a young male, WL whose offences were domestic related involving an ex-partner who is the mother of his two children. I had initially completed his Criminal Justice Social Work report and recommended a disposal of a Community Payback Order after completing an assessment of risk which was supported by the application of a risk assessment tool which specialises in cases of domestic abuse. Completing assessments particularly in relation of risk can be difficult as I need to consider all information I receive including discussions with professionals involved, victim of the offence if applicable and family members. Walker and Beckett, 2003, p. 21 ‘critical perspective of an assessment which thinks of competing demands and negotiating the best possible outcome and considers legislation, agency demands, ethic dilemmas, etc’. In Learning Guide 6: Working with uncertainty and risk, it describes identification, assessing and managing as a key social work purpose however risks have both positive and negative consequences. I acknowledge that service users have ‘the right to take risks and part of looking at risks is helping them to identify and manage potential and actual risks to themselves and others’ (Scottish Social Service Council). When working with risk it requires a critical understanding involving individual’s rights to both autonomy and choice, with their rights to protection from harm. I adhered to legislation, policies and procedures in relation to risk and protection. In Learning Guide 6, it discussed risk as potentially being beneficial such as good risk taking as well as other risk resulting in harmful consequences because of danger or safety. As I am currently within a Criminal Justice placement to risk assess I use a risk assessment tool which is an actuarial method in risk assessments. It involves me collating information that I have gathered and inputting it onto a system which then calculates the probability in which the individual is liking to reoffend highlighting areas of behaviour that can heighten the risk. However within my role I use an actuarial method of risk assessing and incorporate a clinical method into my risk assessments. Prins, 1988: Kemshall 1997 state that ‘Clinical method usefulness has been in terms of making sense of an individual’s risk behaviour, by looking at attitudes, motivations and precipitating factors that led to risky behaviour’. By combining both actuarial and clinical methods of assessments it offers an efficient and effective approach as I consider actuarial method outcome and take into consideration of the clinical method of risk assessment including taking into account legislation, policies, procedures and rights when completing risk assessment. Kemshall (2003), has stated ‘risk assessment which combines the best features of both clinical assessment and actuarial method are now recommended’. In relation to the report I completed for WL, I used a risk assessment tool and interviewed WL, his ex-partner and a professional from Woman Aid’s to draw together an appropriate risk management plan. When assessing risk I took an holistic approach which takes into account factors in relation to an individual’s lives whilst also incorporating an Ecological approach (Bronfenbrenner, 1979) where I acknowledged interrelationship’s between the person and environment and how individuals employ coping mechanisms and draw on resources in the environment, social networks and inner resources. Risk assessments are made to determine decision making regarding interventions and the intensity of contact when on a Community Payback order and what factors of the service users lives are required support to reduce risk. Due to the risk WL posed to his ex-partner and their children a Conduct Requirement not to enter or seek to enter his ex-partner’s home was enforced by the Court after I recommended following the risk assessment (Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, Section 14, 227W). I based my decision on a number of factors including risk assessment tools, professional opinion, interviews, research in relation to domestic abuse and links to evidence based practice. I did consider ethical dilemmas including The Human Rights Act 1998, however implementing such a requirement was in the interests of preventing a crime was a decision I made. Once an assessment is completed at Court report stages I then create a risk management plan.
Cree and Wallace (2009), stress that risk assessment is ‘not an end in itself, but is best considered as part of a wider risk management strategy’ (p. 53). A risk management plan is put into place to reduce any likelihood of risk occurring. Within my placement I created a risk management plan at Court Report stage for implementation as soon as the offender has a Community Payback Order imposed on them. The management plan is not static and can change over time. When I initially met with WL after their Court order had been imposed I discussed his risk management plan with him including offense focused work. The offence focused work had been selected for that individual to specifically focus on and complete to address areas within his life that can be a contributing factor to his offending behaviour. By discussing his case management plan with him provided an opportunity to work in an empowering way than an oppressive way. I thought this started the engagement of partnership working with the service user as he was able to discuss openly his case management plans, ask questions and I give him an opportunity to add to his plan if appropriate. In Learning Guide 8, of The Open University course (Pattoni, 2012) ‘Strengths based approaches for working with individuals’. The approach interested me as it focuses on the strengths of the individual and their goals. I was able to use the Strengths based approach when working with WL. I was able to have an open and honest conversation about the person’s strengths and the risks to aid a solution-focused questioning method. By discussing his strengths I felt was empowering for him which encouraged him and increased his motivation self-esteem. Acknowledging my own values and knowledge has allowed me to surmount any prejudices and stereotypes towards working with high risk offenders and any preconceived notions of working within Criminal Justice. As discussed within Learning Guide 6, risk management should involve a partnership approach between professional and service user including supporting them and including them to be active participants within the process. It is important that I acknowledge how managing risk entails engaging with, and considering how the relations between, cultural and structural as well as personal factors may intertwine. This made me think of Systems theory, where the theory emphasised that people’s existence is determined by the environment they live or grow in. Systems theory emphasis’s that people’s problems are a result of how they interact with their “systems” which are either formal or informal. Risk assessment and managing risks made me experience a lot of uncertainties regarding my practice and decision making mostly because I am a student social worker on placement. I learned that uncertainty is part of a process and a very normal reaction for even the most experienced workers can encounter. In Learning Guide 6, Stalker (2003) suggests that ‘avoiding risk of harm rather than try to calculate the incalculable, social workers need to regain their former status as experts in uncertainty. They should develop mutually trusting, respectful relationships with their clients, make fine judgements about risk and dare to work creatively and innovatively’. Working with uncertainties can be difficult particularly if it involves risk, however a form of support I have utilised during my placement was discussions with colleagues and using supervision as a tool to reflect on uncertainty within social work and my decision making. I kept an open mind and listened to other perspectives from colleagues, line managers etc and maintained a reflexive approach to practice to continue and engage in a process of continuing learning. Glaister (2008) suggests that a core principle of critical practice is about ‘not knowing’. To ease any apprehensions that I may have in relation to uncertainty and any decisions that I made in relation to working with service users using a reflective approach allowed me to carefully think of the best possible solutions rather than quickly making decisions. Therefore it is crucial that any decisions I made in relation to risk was demonstrated that reasonable steps had been taken within the assessment and case management plan this is known as defensible decision making.
Making decisions is part of the assessment process, when making decisions it is important that I adhered to legal, policy and ethical frameworks. Decision making surrounding risk included working in partnership with the service user I was working with and other professionals involved. Collins and Daly (2011) ’Decision-making and social work in Scotland: The role of evidence and practice wisdom report’ looked at listening to people’s perspectives of using intuition and practice wisdom including reflecting on decision making. By using supervision to discuss decisions allowed further thinking and provided me with a new perspective on difficult matters. Reflecting in supervision regarding complex decision making was beneficial, in previous placements teams would meet on a fortnightly basis and group supervision would take place to discuss high risk cases. Within Learning Guide 9, ‘Achieving effective supervision’; (Kettle, 2015), discusses supervision and explores research findings, different models and approaches. Including group supervision how it can help expand the skills and knowledge base of group members including other options and ideas. It could also help the development of more inventive practice. I would like to see group supervision be incorporated within teams more not as an alternative to 1:1 supervision but as a team building exercise. Defensible decision making is about looking at the evidence, using risk assessment tools, evaluating information, working within policies and procedures and communicating with the relevant others involved. Within Criminal Justice I matched risk management plans to risk factors with individuals on a level of contact that is appropriate with their level of risk. Non-compliance and deteriorating behaviour can be signs of risk escalating and I must adhere to legal, policy and ethical frameworks that are in place. As part of my continuing personal development I plan to attend training opportunities in relation to assessment, planning and recording and further develop my knowledge on risk, managing risk and decision making.
As WL order progressed he was beginning to be dishonest with professionals involved and was found to be in attendance at his ex-partners home. I had a discussion with both my line manager and as I am aware of Child Protection and my role in sharing information with other professionals I discussed with Children and Families Senior Social Worker regarding the risks to his children and ex-partner. I made a complex decision to Breach his order (Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, Section 227ZD Breach of community payback order). I was able to reflect over my decision making action and take list of points from the course work to supervision to discuss with my practice educator. I made a decision to discuss with WL prior to submitting a Breach Report to the Courts. I critically analysed prior to meeting with him the most appropriate way of communicating with WL so that he was able to provide his narrative (Jones and Watson, 2013, p.122). I was apprehensive prior to the meeting and used support from my Link Worker to discuss my thoughts and feelings. I allowed WL the opportunity to be open and honest with myself then I was open and honest with WL and discussed his Breach of order and gave the reasons as to why. WL expressed his frustration and became angry, I provided reasons behind my decision making and utilised my skills in addressing and managing conflict. ‘12 Skills Summary’ page of the Conflict Resolution Network website (The Open University, 2019) allowed me to critically reflect on my practice and how I dealt with the situation. I challenged undesirable behaviours that WL was displaying and communicating and used an elegant challenging approach (Thompson, 2009). Elegant challenging is when I confronted his opinions regarding his relationship with his ex-partner and his views on controlling and harassing behaviour without being confrontational. I could sense the direction of the interview was becoming difficult as WL continued to become confrontational so therefore I ended the interview by giving him information on what to expect in relation to the breach of his court order. I discussed with my practice educator during supervision about dealing with conflict. My practice educator encouraged me to write a reflective log of the interview, in order for me to fully breakdown my practice in which I used Barnett’s three domains of critical practice (1997). Using this approach allowed me to critically analysis my practice and my actions including thinking of theories or models and methods I used during the interview including thinking of my own values and assumptions. Being able to use this tool has allowed me to process and reflect on my emotions and my practice which allowed me to gain insight into the strengths and skills that I drew on in resolving and managing conflict. Critically thinking approach lets me think of interventions in order to break it down and reflect on which leads to critical action which I am able to progress by offering opportunities for learning and further development in which will help with my professionalism.
Within this essay I have demonstrated a critical reflective analysis of my development whilst demonstrating professionalism. Throughout this essay I have discussed areas within my current practice learning opportunity in which I have used communication, report writing, decision making, risk assessing and dealing with conflict. Whilst becoming a critical practitioner by reflecting on my practice and devolvement it has allowed me to think of continuing my professional development in order for me to enhance my professionalism. The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) have principles in which they emphasise ‘workers must have one of which is workers being accountable for the quality of their work and take responsibility for maintaining and improving their knowledge and skills’ (SSSC, 2016). To further enhance my professionalism I would like to receive training within interviewing skills within Adult and Child Protection, to attend training opportunities in relation to assessment, planning and recording and further develop my knowledge on risk, managing risk and decision making in my practice and attend training opportunities in relation to assessment, planning and recording and further develop my knowledge on risk, managing risk and decision making and research risk and working with involuntary clients. Social work is complex and it is important as a practicing social work student that I have an understanding and able to demonstrate the importance of having and developing my knowledge, using skills and abilities and having an ethical and personal commitment whilst becoming a critical practitioner. Being able to take a critical analytic perspective has helped me become more of an autonomous practitioner which increases my professionalism.
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Write an essay evaluating how your leadership skills, one key aspect of professionalism, have improved through developing and presenting your proposal for practitioner research.
Leadership capabilities is one key aspect of professionalism. Within the Scottish Social Service Council website ‘Step into leadership’, leadership capability is examined and a description of what leadership and management capabilities that I would be expected to develop as a qualified social worker is highlighted as self- leadership, motivating and inspiring , Collaborating and influencing, Creativity and innovation empowering and future development. Within this essay I will be evaluating how my leadership capabilities have improved and helped with my development through presenting my proposal of practitioner research.
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Within my assessed placement I am based within a Criminal Justice Social Work setting within a statuary social work team. I researched reducing reoffending and interviewed service users who served custodial sentences and learned how physical exercise helped them. I decided to base my research proposal on the promotion of physical exercise to reduce reoffending. I displayed self- leadership by discussing my research proposal with my line manager and also with a manager who supervises youth justice social work. Both provided me with positive feedback and thought my chosen topic would benefit their teams. I was confident to carry out my research and found research materials which was relevant and informative in helping me gain a better insight into the benefits of physical exercise and how it could benefit individuals who are involved within criminal justice.
Initially I encountered barriers when trying to access information in relation to activities that where accessible for those involved within the criminal justice system. I used peer feedback from my practice skills workshop to develop my presentation and improve it. Through the feedback I was encouraged to continue and pursue contacting agencies that I was aware of to collaboratively work together to access appropriate services. I was provided with an application form that I was able to distribute to my team for service users to access free gym facilities for six weeks, and afterwards at a reduced financial rate.
Through my presentation I was able to motivate and inspire my team members through my research I which helped influence my practice and my colleagues practice. This helped empower service user’s access facilities to help them actively use their time, promote physical exercise and help mental health. Alimo-Metcalfe and Alban-Metcalfe (2005) reported that valuing others is a significant leadership characteristic where as a professional encouragement of individuals and wider teams development is equally important and enhances leadership skills.
After I conducted my research proposal for the team I am working within I received encouraging feedback. I have enjoyed researching and conducting my own research proposal and presenting information to my team members and found this very beneficial in relation to my development and helping promote change within social work practice. By helping promoting change to not only the individuals I work with but also my colleague’s helps developing my leadership skills. I have conducted other research throughout my placement and plan to continue this throughout my career. The research has increased my confidence and being able to pass this knowledge onto my team in which would help empower the service users we work with has helped my leadership skills which increases my professionalism.
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