|"Helping the practitioners ..."|
|Experience and Reflection - Developing good practice|
· summarising current professional research, opinion and developments
My main areas of involvement remain school-focused work and work around substance misuse and sexual health - to use public health rather than educational terminology. But I am more and more aware of the links and relationships which these areas have with each other; and with such areas as child protection, emotional health and well-being and parenting. I regard each and any of the areas in which I work as being parts of a system or syndrome, not separate, single-issue topics. To respond to one means to deal with all.
I claim as one of my professional skills the interpretation of legislation and guidance into practice, and this has been the focus of much of my recent work. What this is also involving, especially with the emergence in the UK of children's services, is the 'translation' of terminology between services and disciplines. Although most services have equivalent terminologies - and targets - the vocabulary used frequently differs, so that the terminologies are parallel, not identical.
One example of this was illustrated on the PSHE CPD courses I assisted in planning and tutoring, which included teachers and community nurses. Both groups have terminologies which are service or discipline specific, even if the topic being discussed is core-work for both groups and similar outcomes are sought. On this course, we produced a glossary of terms, partly to inform the two groups of the terminologies and acronyms each use, but also to clarify the differing vocabulary which each professional group used to describe the same things.
I maintain my interest in what in the UK we have come to call 'work force development.' However, I do have some reservations about the ways in which this strategy has been implemented in many geographical and professional areas. I have come to make a distinction between practitioners and managers in my work, which I think is valid for the wider field of social policy. I make this distinction because of the increasing number of occasions when I have experienced managers and decision makers, including commissioners of services, demonstrating a lack of understanding of the areas for which they have responsibility. At an extreme, this can result in practitioners' skills, experience and learning being dismissed or ignored. Although they often occur for understandable reasons, such extremes can prevent the mixing and sharing of strategic, decision making and practitioner skills for the benefit of all, above all those for whom services operate. The separation of professional roles can impede greater understanding of needs, situations, evidence, experience and the range of ways in which aims and targets can be achieved. Ideally, work-force development applies at all levels and should be implemented across disciplines and throughout hierarchies, not just top-down.
By 'managers' I also include politicians. In autumn 2010 I attended a conference on violence against women and girls at which a coalition government minister spoke. Although he emphasised his and the government's commitment to the developing national strategy on VAWG, it was clear from his subsequent comments that he did not understand the extent or the impact of domestic violence on those subjected to it. This example gave me pause for thought - about the extent to which social policy making at a national level can be driven (or opposed) by indivduals who have grasped a small part of an issue or phenomenon but do not have the broader knowledge which would help them to better understand exactly how such issues can be responded to, and that very often they can at best be managed but not 'solved' -a difficult recognition for politicians. The obvious historical example here is the 'just say no' approach to substance misuse, which simplified and mis-respresented a highly complex social issue and set out responses which were not evidence based, had no realistic chance of succeeding and have set the context from which we are still struggling to escape. Where such approaches do not meet the expectations which politicians have established, such 'failure' is presented to the public as a failure by the practitioners, not a failure of the strategy or approach. So the answer is, often, to subject practitioners to work-force development, with the politicians and decision makers ignoring or denying their own lack of understanding and judgement.
My other emphasis is on the 'good practice' - 'best practice' distinction. I find the use of 'best practice' unhelpful, as it implies one universal response and solution. Good practice, by contrast, seems to me to recognise that there are many ways in which aims and outcomes can be achieved, and that each of these ways has reasons and advantages which can make them more or less suitable for adoption in specific settings. I still, though, hear colleagues referring at one moment to 'best practice' then later assuring their audience that there is 'no silver bullet.'
Terminology is important for me - my wife says that I'm a pedant, but I don't think that's the right word. At the most basic levels, I continue to emphasise the difference between education and prevention as used in the drugs field - interestingly demonstrated at a Home Office conference in March 2005, when a DfES civil servant was clearly taken by surprise at the suggestion that there is a distinction to be made between the two.
Photo this Page: At 'Your Shout!' event in Tower Hamlets, March 2009, with Reha Begum, Teenage Pregnancy Coordinator and Debbie Andrews, Options.
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