social work The Practice Journal of Child, Youth and Family Te Hautaka ako te Tari Äwhina i te Tamaiti, te Rangatahi, tae atu ki te Whänau APRIL 2011

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1 social work 47now APRIL 2011 Te Hautaka ako te Tari Äwhina i te Tamaiti, te Rangatahi, tae atu ki te Whänau The Practice Journal of Child, Youth and Family

2 contents 1 Editorial Paul Nixon 3 Making the most of child and family assessments in child protection Nova Salomen and Debbie Sturmfels 10 Towards a better understanding of young people: The introduction of a new risk, needs and strengths assessment tool Megan Dickie 18 Bringing it together: Assessing parenting capacity in the child protection context Jonelle Crawford 27 Violence in families: The experience and needs of the child Emma Craigie 35 Building safety and deepening our practice Irene de Haan and Kathleen Manion 44 Strengthening our interventions: Reflections from the field Nova Salomen 48 Book reviews Marti Hartley social work now 47 APRIL 2011 The stone that features on the cover was created by a young person at one of our care and protection residences. Social Work Now is published three times a year by Child, Youth and Family. Views expressed in the journal are not necessarily those of Child, Youth and Family. Material may be reprinted in other publications only with prior written permission and provided the material is used in context and credited to Social Work Now.

3 editorial Paul Nixon, Chief Social Worker Welcome to this latest edition of Social Work Now, which has a strong focus on improving practice. I am delighted to have the opportunity to provide this introduction and to be working in a country that has always impressed me with its willingness to concentrate on the importance of practice and to innovate in social work to improve the lives of vulnerable children. I want to thank our previous Chief Social Worker, Marie Connolly (who has now taken up a position at the University of Melbourne) for her careful stewardship of the journal for five years and in particular her passion for keeping evidence-based practice in the forefront of everyday social work. I trust and hope we can keep the journal to the same high standard and that we continue to develop the publication to best meet the needs of its readership. It is fundamentally about social work and good quality practice. To that end we will soon be consulting widely about any changes or improvements you would like to see in this journal. We are also keen to be able to present more articles from frontline practitioners and managers, alongside perspectives from other agencies we work with and, in particular, contributions from children, young people and families who use our services. As part of our consultation we want to hear from you about how you would like to see this publication in the future. We encourage you to fill in a brief survey which can be found on the Practice Centre website, under what s new Before we turn our attention to this journal, I want to acknowledge the people of Christchurch and especially our staff there, who have shown huge courage, resilience and professionalism in the face of such adversity. It was during the production of this edition that the devastating earthquake hit Christchurch on 22 February Everyone in New Zealand has been affected to some degree by the catastrophic earthquake, but despite this social workers and others working with vulnerable children have kept services going. I met up with social workers soon after the quake and there was a real determination to keep up the quality of practice, which was really inspiring. In any context it is important to keep learning and moving forward. As social workers we should commit ourselves to being life-long learners ready to understand new ways of working with children and families, the latest lessons from research, and emerging models of best practice. Each of the articles here provides ideas and insights into practice and what might help improve outcomes for children and young people. This edition is particularly timely as it introduces some of the current thinking that is shaping practice in Child, Youth and Family, and it is also unique as it has been entirely written by the staff within the Office of the Chief Social Worker. They offer a unique perspective on the direction of practice within, Child Youth and Family. Our first three articles converge on assessment. Nova Salomen and Debbie Sturmfels articulate the importance of undertaking and utilising holistic assessments to better understand a child or young person s needs, enabling us to more effectively act on them. In a similar vein, Megan Dickie outlines the work that has underpinned the development of the TRAX Adolescent Assessment currently in use in New Zealand. Exploring another area of assessment, Jonelle Crawford provides us with a tangible overview of conducting assessments on parenting capacity. Moving away from assessment Have requested updated figures and will send them to you asap, Emma Craigie examines the complexity underlying family violence dynamics within the child protection arena and offers some insight into how to keep the focus on the child. Irene de Haan and Kathleen Manion discuss the importance of building sustainable solutions to keep children and young people safe using safety plans. Nova Salomen concludes the articles in this edition by highlighting the importance of Practice directions SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL

4 strengthening our practice in monitoring and intervening with a family. To close this issue, Marti Hartley provides us with a refreshing review of three children s books that social workers can use to engage with children. I hope you enjoy this edition and that it provides you with inspiration and food for thought in your important work in trying to improve the lives of vulnerable children and families. 2 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

5 Making the most of child and family assessments in child protection Practice Directions Nova Salomen and Debbie Sturmfels How we think about issues of child maltreatment will, not surprisingly, determine how we respond (Turnell & Edwards, 1999, p. 29). While this quote is over 10 years old, it still rings true today. Social work is a value-laden profession and practitioners bring their own beliefs and principles to their practice. Phillips and Dutt (1990) described this appropriately when they suggested that all those involved in making, and responding to, allegations of chid abuse were not neutral and brought their own perspectives to their responses. Similarly, they suggested that any legislative framework governing child protection also represents a particular standpoint. Policies and legislation are in place to temper individual judgements based on gut instinct. However, it is difficult to maintain an objective view when faced with harm to children. Our personal values influence how we respond and this may lead us down a one-way street from which we do not attempt to turn. This article provides an overview of assessment practice, within the context of Child, Youth and Family, the child protection agency in New Zealand. It discusses the importance of building relationships with our clients, taking our blinkers off, and ensuring we are working with children and families. What is assessment? Assessment is about understanding the needs of children and young people and their families (Connolly, 2008). Undertaking assessment enhances our decision-making and planning with the whänau. When social workers begin their enquiries into concerns relating to the safety and wellbeing of children, they need to balance keeping a global perspective with trying to ascertain specific details and facts. This is generally performed within a context of wariness and uncertainty, by both the practitioner and the people they are interviewing. The Oxford Dictionary (2010) definition for assess is to evaluate or estimate the nature, ability, or quality of. Thus an assessment in this context is the action of evaluating the nature, ability and quality of the safety of a child. In essence we are attempting to understand the circumstances for the child, the presence of any safety concerns and the nature of those concerns, as well as the general wellbeing of the child. While a child protection practitioner s primary focus is initially on safety, an assessment needs to be broader than this, whether it be the safety assessment or holistic wellbeing assessment. Full assessments cover the same areas of safety, security, health and happiness, that is, the needs of the child. Remaining child-centred Child, Youth and Family has strengthened its response to children and young people by introducing differential response (in June 2008) and by updating the Child Protection Protocol (in April 2010) with the police. Reviews of these initiatives have illustrated that most of the children we come in contact with are safe. However, our interactions with families often uncover concerns centring on the child s environment and their wellbeing. The course of our work often illuminates unmet needs, which we know can lead to adverse life outcomes, such as unemployment, offending and low educational 3

6 achievement. Traditionally, child protection agencies have not been good at responding to unmet needs, as they tend to sit lower on the list of priorities on the child protection continuum. Good assessments should help us understand what is happening for the child and what can be done to assist them to be the best they can be. Holland (2001) completed a qualitative analysis of the conduct of indepth assessments by social workers in Britain, concentrating on the portrayal of children in the assessments and reporting children s developmental progress. She found that adults were vividly portrayed with colourful pictures, while children were described two dimensionally. Holland also found that children were commonly discussed in relation to their parents. For instance, Holland readily found detailed descriptions of the child s response to their parents, but not descriptions of the child in other environments, such as at school or other people s homes. Assessments tend to focus on explaining parental behaviour and limiting their description of the child to their physical presentation. Holland (2001) provided one example of a 25-page assessment that included only four pages discussing the five children and only four lines covering the two-year-old. This is consistent with findings from informal reviews of full assessments conducted by regional practice advisors and the Office of the Chief Social Worker in New Zealand. Pithouse and Atkinson (1988) state that social workers can be seen as always engaging in the task of building narratives to report and justify their actions. This involves a process, termed bricolage (1988, p. 194). This is where the social worker selects aspects of family life and reassembles them in narrative form. What emerges from the process of bricolage in our assessments is a fairly flat and narrow perspective of the child. Most of our descriptions come from our knowledge of child development, attachment and how the child has been described by other adults, peppered with brief sightings of the child and third-person descriptions of their behaviour and development. This is particularly true for children who are non-verbal or who have a disability. Our ability to provide the best intervention relies on us having better knowledge of the children we work with, and this means widening our assessments to include observation and interaction with the child in different settings. Where does assessment begin? Assessment begins from the moment we first start to think about how to engage with a family. Planning is essential to a thorough assessment. Child, Youth and Family introduced the use of the group consult, an assessment tool adapted from the work of Turnell and Edwards (1999), as part of differential response (see Field, 2008). The group consult helps in understanding the danger safety continuum and providing clarity about what we are actually concerned about within a family. The group consult has been used in a variety of ways, including as a way to understand a new case and the directions it needs to take, or as a way to plan a more extensive assessment. The initial information we collect often provides us with the dangers that exist for a child, however we also need to articulate what it is about those dangers that we are really worried about for the child. It is useful to think about the information needed and about where that information can be obtained from. The assessment framework described in Jonelle Crawford s article in this edition of Social Work Now can be used to guide assessment planning. By using all three sides of the triangle it is easy to identify what areas need to be covered. The framework is not a checklist, rather it clarifies what information will help us assist the whänau. Information gathering will then vary according to the needs of the family we are working with. Collecting the right information will satisfy the three core areas of the assessment framework: safety, permanency and wellbeing. It helps us understand what is working well for the family and where there may be unmet needs. Families are experts in their own experience 4 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

7 Practice Directions and know more about their own strengths and vulnerabilities. Our job is to engage with them in ways that encourage collaboration and build solid foundations from which to develop a positive intervention plan. How do I assess? Building Relationships Human relationships are complex and often value-laden. The values and preconceived notions a social worker brings to relationships with their clients can impact on the outcomes. If a person s values allow them to make judgements that people are bad for what they have done and incapable of change, this obstructs a respectful helping relationship before it has begun. There is a raft of literature supporting the fact that the most potent and dynamic power for influence lies in the relationship (Perlman, 1972, p. 150). Over a thousand studies have found that the quality of the worker client relationship is the most potent predictor of the outcome, regardless of experience or professional discipline. Sparks and Duncan (2009) found that the child therapist and parent therapist alliances (i.e., relationships between the child and their worker and the parent and their worker) were the most salient components of the therapy that related to changes in the child and improvement in the parenting skills and interactions at home. Qualitative research completed by Holland (2000) of British social workers conducting comprehensive assessments found that typically most assessment decisions are based on verbal interactions with the parents. The verbal interactions are viewed as inextricably linked with the social worker client relationship. Within this relationship the ability to agree on how the abuse occurred was critical in determining the outcome of the assessment. The implication is that the assessments centred on how social workers perceived the personalities of the parents and their attitudes. Parents who could work well within a relationship were seen as articulate, plausible and cooperative. Conversely, parents who were negative were viewed as inarticulate and passive (Holland, 2000, p. 152). The same study found that parents who accepted responsibility were seen as having insight, while those who deflected responsibility were described as lacking insight. If the parent was unable to provide an acceptable explanation and show contrition they were not seen as cooperating (p. 154). Ultimately this paper suggests that parental articulacy, a positive worker client relationship, and an agreed plausible explanation for the family situation determine whether a recommendation for family reunification is made. This raises an important cautionary note. If most assessments are based on verbal interactions and if parents are assessed as passive or inarticulate, then they are less likely to have a favourable assessment which then influences the decisions made, including whether to return a child home. It is essential, therefore, that our assessment process includes critical reflection and an examination of our thinking to ensure we are not being overly biased by our beliefs and judgements. According to Turnell and Edwards (1999, p. 112), the initial assessment visit tends to have three purposes: assess the truth of the allegations assess the likelihood of future harm build as much cooperation as possible so that the best information is gathered and a partnership between the family and agency is achievable should ongoing casework be required. There is a tendency to focus our visit on assessing the truth of the allegation and the likelihood of future harm, without prioritising building a relationship. While this may be understandable when under pressure to meet timeframes, it can become counterproductive. Without building a relationship, we increase the likelihood of hostility growing, which in turn increases the likelihood of greater statutory intervention. Partnership-aspiring child protection work requires skilful practice that is simultaneously 5

8 authoritative and open-minded (Turnell & Edwards, 1999, p.112). In line with Turnell and Edwards approach, Duncan (2010) advises practitioners about being friendly, responsive and flexible (like on a first date): stay close to the client s experience. Listen, listen, listen. A more hospitable relationship allows a practitioner greater chance to work together to achieve safety and wellbeing for the child. One of the biggest challenges for social workers is to remain open-minded and keep the blinkers off. Similarly, an awareness of your beliefs and opinions and an openness to the client s perspective helps facilitate a more meaningful and productive relationship. A useful maxim is cooperate with the person, not the abuse (Turnell & Edwards, 1999, p. 33). This does not mean we avoid or ignore the danger and our worries or condone harmful behaviour; it means we are open about our worries and seek to explore them with the family. What does assessment look like? Achieving a positive outcome for children requires us to work intensively at the beginning of our engagement with a family. If we do not completely understand what is happening within a family, and for a child, we cannot appropriately respond. Having a strong and positive relationship with the child and their family allows us to better develop the partnership needed to support change. Not investing in this can and does result in repeat reports of concern and children having ongoing unmet needs. Assessment requires talking with those key people involved and truly understanding what they are saying. Listening and observing are two key skills needed for producing good assessments. Our ability to assess is based on our ability to talk with the children and their parents, spend time with them, see how they interact as a family and as a group and meet them in alternative settings. Our observation is critical, as too often we rely on verbal reports alone. Talking to other professionals is useful to gain their views and understand how their information fits with the family s views as a form of triangulation. Again this requires us to ensure our judgements about the information are not confused with case details. Often what we see and judge to be significant is quite different from the perspective and priorities of families. For example, a mother whose children have been removed may storm out of an interview, and we interpret this as her being resistant and angry. Her perspective may be that she is frustrated with telling the same story three times and not seeing any action in her children returning home. As our judgements affect how we interact with people, we need to constantly remind ourselves that our decisions are based on factual details, and not our assumptions. A study by Thoburn, Lewis and Shemmings (1995) regarding well-handled investigations still resonates today. Their analysis of 220 child protection cases compared the differences between situations that were conflictual and those that were cooperative. They found the key element that differed between these cases was how relationships were formed at the crisis stage of contact. Even in the most difficult of cases the key factors in fostering this sort of partnership were the attitudes, skills and efforts of the social workers backed by agency policy and procedures (p. 229). According to Turnell and Edwards (1999) a wellhandled investigation involves: an exploration of the allegation based on agency procedure for assessing danger and harm, incorporating the family s view of the allegations integrating an exploration of safety, including past and present protectiveness, family strengths and resource and their own ideas for increasing safety listening to the family, hearing their view empathy for the anxiety the assessment may invoke a clear and open stance about our role and 6 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

9 Practice Directions authority an up front and honest attitude about the allegations conducting interviews slowly and with flexibility recognising not everything can be addressed in one meeting focusing on small steps, making sure each step is understood and recognising that not everything can happen at once providing choice and an opportunity for family input interviewing for information not solutions take pressure off yourselves by working to gather the best possible information rather than trying too quickly to arrive at decisions and plans. While the above may seem difficult to achieve within short timeframes, careful planning and purposeful use of every contact can focus effort on what needs to be achieved. Setting goals about what needs to be achieved with each contact can also help save time, but it is also important to allow time to reflect on the information and review our position in relation to that information. Colleagues and your supervisor are often useful in seeking solutions. This time for reflection is an important part of the process, and it is important to keep it separate from information gathering. There are many cases where decisions are made during the first visit, rather than after a period of digestion and further investigation. Too often we do not have enough information to make an informed response after one visit. In 2005 Dr Marie Connolly, then Chief Social Worker for Child, Youth and Family, introduced the practice frameworks to the organisation. The frameworks are a series of triggers or practice prompts that guide social workers at key decision points within the social work process, for example, when first engaging with a family or making decisions about permanent care(connolly, 2007). The frameworks include two interwoven phases on engagement and assessment and seeking solutions. Connolly (2007) says the triggers in the phases provide a best practice reminder for social workers within the early phase of our work. The questions allow social workers to dig deeper into practice and provide opportunities to explore the ways in which the perspectives come together to shape and influence their work. The seeking solutions phase begins once the social worker forms a belief that the child is in need of care and/or protection, and work needs to be done toward developing solutions. Chapman and Field (2007), drawing upon Ferguson s work (2004), explore the levels of practice depth from conveyor-belt practice to reflective practice. Conveyor-belt practice looks at assessing safety as a way to respond to efficiency drivers and speedy casework resolution, whereas reflective practice encourages critical reflection, engagement with families and responsiveness to their needs. There are occasions when conveyor-belt practice is appropriate. However, the practitioner needs to be mindful of pausing and taking a deeper look at a case when needed. Prior to determining a solution, a skilful practitioner will step back and consider the information and balance it with professional judgement. Professional judgement is required to determine what level of practice depth is required at different times during the life of a case. For example, a family may have been notified to child protection services two or three times concerning the care of the children and the state of the home. Although the concerns may have been dealt with efficiently and appropriately at the time, a new notification may require a different approach. It is frequently cited that child protection practitioners work in an uncertain environment, with competing versions and differing interpretations of events and information (Turnell & Edwards, 1999; Parton & O Byrne, 2000; Munro, 2002). Sometimes the right direction for a case is clear, while other times it remains grey. It is often only with the benefit of hindsight that we can 7

10 8 be seen as right. Brechin, Brown and Eby (2000) describe a model of critical practice founded on a clear reflective value base, which recognises the need for professionals to be able to handle change and uncertainty (cited in Barnes & Chand, 2000). Some may argue that there is little time for practice reflection. However when undertaking an assessment regularly, questioning the assessment information and direction and accepting the context of uncertainty can ultimately save time. Operating in this way builds confidence and makes decision-making more transparent (Barnes & Chand 2000). Rushing to a decision and adhering to one direction regardless of contra-indictors can be counter productive (Taylor & White 2006). Confirmation bias (i.e. seeking only information to confirm a singular hypothesis) is often at play, which is why it is important to continually question the case direction, ensure we are using all of the information we have to provide an informed view and remain open to an alternative hypothesis. It is important to use our evidence base, including theoretical knowledge to interrogate a preconceived hypothesis. Once an assessment is completed, a good assessment summary should outline the pertinent factual information from the child and family members about safety and needs and clearly evidence their perspective of the concerns and their goals either through working with support agencies or statutory intervention. This should be balanced by the social work view of what we are worried about, reached through critical reflection and an exploration of any bias. The assessment should lead us to identify the needs of the child and provide direction for service response. Enhancing our assessment tools a look to the future For nearly 20 years there has been a legal requirement in England and Wales to identify and assist children in need. There is also evidence in Australia, Sweden, Canada and Ireland of children s services needing to identify and address children s needs (Axford, Green, Kalsbeek et al, 2009). SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011 Axford, Green, Kalsbeek et al (2009) analysed 83 reports between 1999 and 2007 in two local authorities in England (one urban and one rural), focusing on the quality and usefulness of needs assessments for children. Their study found that there is still little information on the needs of children and what services are then provided. The above findings are consistent with anecdotal reports in New Zealand. Our current assessment tools focus on the factors impacting on safe parenting rather than the specific needs of children. While we do know that there are many services for children, we do not know if the services match or indeed address their needs. In this context, needs involves the circumstances or traits of the child that should be addressed in order for the child to be the best they can be and overcome the potential for adverse life outcomes. While we routinely talk about risks to children and young people, we need to differentiate needs from risks. We need to be able to name what the child requires and then provide the appropriate service response. Our practice evidence and experience from other countries has led to us re-examining our practice tools and the way we assess the needs of children and their families. Currently, Child, Youth and Family uses two key assessment tools to support assessment practice, the assessment triangle (previously mentioned) and the family strengths and risks assessment (FSRA) tool. The assessment triangle is a visual tool of the strengths and risks assessment and provides prompts of what to think about when completing an assessment and in particular the FSRA. 1 To support and strengthen our internal assessment practice Child, Youth and Family is developing a child and family assessment tool with the aim of accurately identifying and addressing the needs of children and their families. 1 See family-strengths-and-risks-assessment.html

11 Practice Directions The tool will pay equal attention to the child centred side of the assessment framework triangle and the parental capacity and environmental factors. Specifically the assessment tool will prompt the identification of needs of each child according to their age and developmental stage as well as determine their level of need or degree of complexity. It will explore family strengths and risks in order to assist the matching of services with identified needs. Summary The key to a comprehensive assessment begins at the first contact. Building relationships with the child and their parents is critical to gathering information and ultimately making objective judgements regarding statutory intervention. Our assessments need to be three dimensional and reflect all three sides of our assessment triangle. The child, oft described in a flat narrative way, needs to come alive for us to ensure we are aware of their needs and how we can best respond. Assessment is ongoing and while we want to feel comfortable with our decisions, we need to embrace a feeling of uncertainty. This enables us to move away from a singular hypothesis and reflect on all of the available information. This allows a comprehensive, robust assessment that incorporates our views and those of the family. By working together we are building a pathway to achieve mutual goals. Children, young people and their families deserve the best response we can deliver and this begins with saying Kia ora, kia orana, hello. Connolly, M. (2007). Practice frameworks: Conceptual maps to guide interventions in child welfare. British Journal of Social Work, 37 (5), Connolly, M. (2008). How do I use the assessment framework in my visiting book? Panui, September (82). Duncan, B. (2010). On Becoming a Better Therapist. Washington, DC: APA. Ferguson, H. (2004). Protecting Children in Time: Child abuse, child protection and the consequences of modernity. New York: Palgrave. Field, J. (2008). Rethinking supervision and shaping future practice. Social Work Now, August, Holland, S. (2000). The assessment relationship: interactions between social workers and parents in child protection assessments. British Journal of Social Work, 30, Holland, S. (2001). Representing children in child protection assessments. Childhood, 8, Munro, E. (2002). Effective Child Protection. London: Sage. Oxford University Press (2010) Oxford Dictionary of English. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Parton, N. & O Byrne, P. (2000) Constructive Social Work: Towards a new practice. Basingstoke: Macmillan. Perlman, H The problem solving model in social casework. In R. Roberts & R. Nee (Eds.), Theory of Social Casework. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Phillips, M. & Dutt, R. (1990) Towards a Black Perspective in Child Protection. London: Race Equality Unit. Pithouse, A. & Atkinson, P. (1988). Telling the case: Occupational narrative in a social work office. In N. Coupland (Ed.), Styles of Discourse, London: Croom Helm. Rees, C. (2010). All they need is love? Helping children to recover from neglect and abuse. Archives of Disease in Childhood, September, 1 8. Sparks, J. & Duncan, B. (2009). Common factors in couple and family therapy. In B. Duncan, S. Miller, B. Wampold & M. Hubble (Eds.), The Heart and Soul of Change (2 nd ed). Washington, DC: APA. Stanley, T. (2007). Risky work: Child protection practice. Social Policy Journal of New Zealand, 30, Taylor, C. & White, S. (2006). Knowledge and reasoning in social work: Educating for humane judgement. British Journal of Social Work, 36, Thoburn, J., Lewis, A., & Shemmings, D. (1995). Paternalism or Partnership? Family involvement in the child protection process. London: HSMO. Turnell, A. & Edwards, S. (1999). Signs of Safety. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. REFERENCES Axford, N., Green, V., Kalsbeek, A., Morpeth, L., & Palmer, C. (2009). Measuring children s needs: how are we doing? Child & Family Social Work, 14, Barnes, V. & Chand, A. (2000). Initial assessments in child protection: The reality of practice. Practice, 12, 4, Brechin, A., Brown, H. & Eby, M. (2000). Critical Practice in Health and Social Care. London: Sage. Chapman, M. & Field, J. (2007). Strengthening our engagement with families and understanding practice depth. Social Work Now, December,

12 Towards a better understanding of young people: The introduction of a new risk, needs and strengths assessment tool Megan Dickie Alex was first caught offending at age 11 years. Social services had concerns for the safety and wellbeing of Alex and his siblings dating back to when he was just 3 years old. Now 15, Alex is alienated from education and despite attempts to ensure he is in stable accommodation, he is transient and often spends time living on the street. Alex has begun using solvents regularly and says that they are a cheaper form of getting high than alcohol. Well known to the police, Alex has been through the youth justice process several times already. Turning around the lives of young people like Alex is challenging, and no one-size-fits-all form of intervention exists. There is, however, a growing body of research that supports our understanding of best practice in our work with young people and what works within the field of youth justice. One of the findings within this research is the importance of structured and reliable assessment within the fields of care and protection and youth justice. Often referred to as the beginning phase of work, engagement and assessment is the foundation for the social worker client relationship and forms the basis of effective interventions. As Greene (2008, p. 18) describes: the purpose of assessment is to bring together the various facets of a client s situation, and the interaction among them, in an orderly economical manner and to then select salient and effective interventions. In recognising that assessment is fundamental to effective intervention, Child, Youth and Family has developed and implemented a new assessment tool that is specific to working with young people. TRAX, a tool to support young people to stay on track, was developed and implemented in 2010 to be used across the organisation by both care and protection and youth justice services. This article explores the introduction of this new tool, outlining the theoretical basis of its development and discussing the practice imperatives surrounding its application. The development of TRAX Better assessment leads to better outcomes. This concept is supported by a significant body of research, but will also be familiar to most social workers as they engage in reflective practice. For Child, Youth and Family, the benefits are manifold and stretch across client, practitioner and organisation. Redefining the organisation s approach to assessment has meant drawing on the evidence from research, as well as the experiences of other countries. In New Zealand, addressing youth crime is one of the government s current key priorities. As such, significant changes across the field of youth justice were seen in Central to these reforms was the introduction of new legislation within the Children, Young Persons, and their Families (CYP&F) Act Known as Fresh Start, 10 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

13 Practice Directions the reforms aimed to target persistent and high risk young offenders and have had an impact across the justice sector. For Child, Youth and Family, the changes have been significant and have affected how we work with children and young people who offend. It could be argued, however, that the most significant shift is ideological. This is evident in the introduction of a new youth justice principle within legislation. The change this heralds is subtle, but very important. The principle states that any measure for dealing with offending by a child or young person should so far as it is practicable to do so address the causes underlying the child s or young person s offending (section 208 (fa): CYP&F Act 1989). Some argue that this blurs the line of responsibility between child protection and youth justice. While child protection may argue that areas of need are best addressed by within their remit, others argue that they may be addressed within the context of youth justice. For others, this provides an opportunity to go beyond the limitations of holding young people to account and instead focus on addressing factors that impact on their propensity towards crime. To accommodate the necessary change, we needed to ensure our youth justice practitioners had the right tools for the job. This has meant introducing a new assessment tool as well as rationalising the policy and guidelines surrounding its application. Rather than adopt a tool already in use, we determined that we would tailor our own to fit our unique cultural, organisational and legal context. Since 1999, the Wellbeing Assessment has been used to assess the needs of young people. Although this tool has served as an excellent resource, a decade on, it falls short of meeting the principles of current best practice. The Wellbeing Assessment has served as an excellent foundation from which we have been able to build an assessment tool to meet the needs of contemporary practice in care and protection and in youth justice. TRAX took nearly two years to develop and was rolled out in September The time and care needed to develop TRAX can largely be attributed to the fact that it was designed for use across care and protection and youth justice services. Working with young people in child protection is a very specific area of practice that relies upon its own models and theories. Working with young people who offend is also specialised, managing the tension between meeting needs and addressing accountability. Redefining our approach to assessment has meant drawing together both these fields of practice to find much more than a middle ground. The result is that we have developed an assessment tool that works for all young people aged from 12 to 17 years, taking account of this unique developmental stage, and adopting specific approaches from a restorative justice perspective. Building the tool from the theory He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast. Leonardo da Vinci During a training session an experienced social worker asked on what basis we were making changes to the way we assess young people. In her own words she liked to know that things weren t pulled out of thin air. In essence, this social worker was asking what theoretical basis underpinned the introduction of this new assessment tool and wanted some validation that there were practice imperatives behind it. The ability to locate any new initiative within an evidence base is essential if we are to aspire to best practice. The introduction of the TRAX assessment tool and the changes to the assessment pathway are firmly rooted in what we know works when working with young people. On the verge of independence, a young person is neither adult nor child. The physical, emotional and mental development of this stage of life is unique. Erik Erikson ( ), a renowned psychologist who concentrated his life s work on human development, claimed that adolescence is primarily concerned with forming identity 11

14 12 (Carlson & Buskist, 1997). This striving for identity is characterised by a search for new experiences, social connectedness and engagement in risky behaviour, and is known to bring about its fair share of trials and tribulations. And as the following quote portrays, the turbulence of adolescence is not confined to today s youth: I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words... When I was young, we were taught to be discreet and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise [disrespectful] and impatient of restraint. Hesiod, 8th century BC Most young people negotiate their way through this period to become well-adjusted adults. However, a minority will struggle to circumnavigate the boulders that appear on the road to self-identity and independence. For those without the resources and support that help in the development of resilience, this period can be particularly difficult. Some will push every social norm and boundary and be tagged at risk. This group will often come into contact with the law, have difficulties within the education system, and be over-represented in mental health and addiction services. Engagement and assessment is a critical phase of social work practice. It usually forms the first stepping stone in the client practitioner relationship across most fields whether it be child protection, justice, health or one of many other specialised areas where social work involves working directly with clients. The assumption is intervening appropriately requires sufficient information about a problem or situation (Greene, 2008). The perspective that prevails as a theoretical basis for most social work assessment (ibid.) is that the interaction between people and their environment is fundamental. SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011 Rosetti (1980, p. 50) believes that adolescence constitutes perhaps the most intensive period of adjustment between the individual and his social environment. This means that in order to understand the situation of a young person and try to intervene effectively we need a theoretical framework that is firmly located in understanding the relationship between the person and their environment. This is a key aspect of social work knowledge and expertise. The closely aligned systems and ecological systems theories provide the basis for understanding and interpreting the individual within the context of their environment. Systems theory is able to provide social workers with a conceptual perspective that can guide how they view the world (Kirst-Ashman & Grafton, 2009, p. 9). Originally described by Goldstein (1973, p. 110) as a framework for gaining appreciation of the entire range of elements that bear on a social problem, systems theory and the Unitary Approaches defined by Goldstein (1973) and Pincus and Minahan (1973 and 1977) still resonate today. Following a person-in-their-environment perspective, the ecological systems theory also explores the effect the environment has on the child (Kirst-Ashman & Grafton, 2009). The ecological model first proposed by Bronfenbrenner (1979) describes four levels (micro, meso, exto and macro 2 ) of interaction between the person and the systems that impact on their experience. The model provides a tangible way of understanding the interaction between people and the systems that impact on them. The approach helps us to understand that effective social work intervention occurs by working not only directly with clients, but also with the familial, social and cultural factors that affect their social functioning (Pardeck, 1996, p. 2). Te Whare Tapa Whä is a model of Mäori wellbeing developed by Mason Durie (1998). It has been influential in the development of TRAX. 2 i.e. between individuals, between groups of individuals, between systems that peripherally impact on individuals, and the societal system.

15 Practice Directions Te Whare Tapa Whä is a model that describes the interaction of systems from a cultural perspective unique to Mäori. Using the image of a wharenui (meeting house) with its four sides, four cornerstones or components of health are described. These are: Taha Wairua (faith and connection to spiritual realm) Taha Hinengaro (thoughts and feelings connection between mind and body) Taha Tinana (the capacity for physical growth and development) Taha Whanau (belonging, caring and sharing within family and wider social systems) (Durie, 1998). Each of the dimensions share equal standing. Maintenance of equilibrium among them reveals itself in the health and wellbeing of an individual (ibid). This model recognises the importance of exploring cultural considerations and family/ whänau viewpoints alongside physical and emotional development and faith and spirituality. Finally, it is essential that reference is made to the strengths-based approach born in the 1990s. It could be argued that this school of thought, more than any other, has helped transform the paradigm of traditional problem-based assessments towards a more client-centred and hope engendered approach in social work. The basic assumption of strengths-based theory is that people possess unique strengths, skills and abilities [and are able to] create solutions where none seem possible (Graybeal, 2001, p. 233). Based on this view there has been a dramatic shift in focus from pure appraisal of a client s deficits towards a more holistic assessment that enquires about the unique strengths that a client has. The approaches described above provide the theoretical foundation for the development of a new assessment tool. TRAX is in fact based on the amalgamation of these approaches, and this has helped to develop a tool that is broad enough to comprehensively explore a young person s wellbeing and situation. A youth justice paradigm The cure for crime is not the electric chair, but the high chair. J. Edgar Hoover There has been growing interest in the field of youth justice. How we can turn around the lives of young people like Alex has become a key political agenda item and is omnipresent in the media. In New Zealand, this is perhaps due to the rise in the frequency and severity of crime committed by young people (Chong, 2007). The cost of youth crime to society is significant in both human and financial terms, making it one of the key issues of today. The growing interest in youth justice has mirrored an increase in our understanding of the best ways to work with young people who offend. We now know that a small number of young people are responsible for the majority of serious offences (ibid.). We also know that our intervention with them needs to be intense, address the underlying causes of offending, and be provided at the earliest opportunity (McLaren, 2000; Becroft, 2004). The paradigm shift from nothing works to what works within the field of justice has occurred over the past 50 years (McLaren, 2000; Andrews & Bonta, 2007; Day,Howells & Rickwood, 2004). There is a vast body of research that demonstrates there are strategies that work in the management and rehabilitation of offending populations. Of all the research there is none perhaps more influential than the Risk-Need- Responsivity (RNR) model first formalised in 1990 by Bonta, Andrews and Hoge. This approach has been adopted in other youth justice jurisdictions across the globe, including the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada (Andrews & Bonta, 2007). Although there have been adaptations over the years, the three founding principles of the RNR model are: Risk Principle Match the level of service to the offenders risk to re-offend. 13

16 Need Principle Assess criminogenic needs and target them in treatment. Responsivity Principle Maximise the offender s ability to learn from a rehabilitative intervention by providing cognitive behavioural treatment and tailoring the intervention to the learning style, abilities and strengths of the offender (Andrews & Bonta, 2007, p. 1). The RNR model provides a framework for intervention within youth justice. Central to this framework is the use of comprehensive risk and needs assessment tools. When a comprehensive risk and needs assessment is combined with a service delivery targeted at those who are most at-risk, the impact on rates of recidivism can be marked (Thompson & Stewart, 2006). There is, however, a science behind the type of assessment tool used and evidence suggests that contemporary youth justice systems need to adopt a fourth generation tool in order to achieve the best results. Experts such as Andrews and Bonta (2007) believe a more comprehensive tool, which captures both static (amenable to change) and dynamic factors (not able to change), and allows for a level of professional discretion, is much more reliable and beneficial (ibid). Fourth generation tools aim to predict the likelihood of reoffending by giving a measure of risk, and also identify the factors contributing to, or underlying, the offending behaviour. Research identifies variables associated with the likelihood of an individual re-offending. These variables can either be dynamic or static. Dynamic factors include aspects such as criminality of peers and attitudes and beliefs; static factors on the other hand, include things like age of first offence (Andrews & Bonta, 2007). Whilst earlier risk assessment was primarily concerned with the identification of static factors, fourth generation tools capture both, but are more concerned with those that are dynamic. These dynamic factors that are known to be empirically associated with offending behaviour are called criminogenic needs (Thompson & Stewart, 2006). Researchers and practitioners alike argue that this approach is more beneficial because it gives an indication of risk, but also captures the underlying causes and provides guidance for intervention (Andrews & Bonta, 2007; Thompson & Stewart, 2006, Day et al, 2004). Fourth generation tools utilise knowledge gained from what works alongside professional discretion and responsivity. The inclusion of professional discretion means that these types of tools balance the use of scientific evidence and clinical decision-making; ultimately there will be a level of override available to practitioners to influence the overall judgement of risk. The responsivity principle is an important addition to the RNR model as it takes into account individual difference. Responsivity factors are those that could influence how interventions might be best delivered taking into account individual differences (Thompson & Stewart, 2006, p. 22) and include aspects such as age, gender, disability and culture. Walking the line between wellbeing and accountability Everything in life... has to have balance. Donna Karan Developing an assessment tool for use in both child protection and youth justice requires that its theoretical underpinnings come from both fields of practice. The result is a tool that is young person-centred, allowing practitioners to analyse both the offending behaviour and the young person s general wellbeing. Whilst care and protection practitioners are able to view the young person s wellbeing as paramount, those working in the field of youth justice have to balance wellbeing with accountability and public safety. In the view of Principal Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft (2004, p. 10), generally we have been successful in holding young people accountable and encouraging them to accept responsibility for their behaviour. However we 14 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

17 Practice Directions Four domains of wellbeing Environment Living circumstances Education/employment Community and recreation Relationships Actions and intentions Motivation Culture & beliefs Attitudes Family/whänau/aiga Peers Boyfriends/girlfriends Other important people Beliefs and behaviours Mental health head space Substance use General health Health Megan Dickie, 2010 have been less successful in addressing their needs, addressing the causes of their offending and assisting them not to re-offend. TRAX allows practitioners to look at the young person as a whole to analyse their strengths, needs and risks and supports practitioners in this careful balance. The diagram explains the model used to develop TRAX and has been derived from the theories outlined within this article. The young person is in the centre, with the four domains of environment, relationships, health and their own beliefs and behaviours surrounding them. The young person and the factors that surround them are in a constant state of interaction with one another. Each domain consists of a series of subdomains for instance within the environment domain, living circumstances, community and recreation and education and employment are all covered. A series of factors are considered within each sub-domain. Under the heading of living environment, for example, enquires are made 15

18 about the young person s home life as part of a set of key considerations such as safety, stability and supervision. Similarly the area of education and employment explores the young person s engagement, attendance and achievements. Each of the factors considered has the potential to act as a source of strength, need or risk. Quite simply, the areas of need identified within TRAX will be the targets for intervention. For instance, if a TRAX assessment was completed with Alex, it would highlight that there were areas of need regarding education, alcohol and drugs, and his living situation. The inclusion of strengths is important as, unlike deficit-based models, it allows for better understanding of a young person s situation and provides a platform of hope on which intervention can be built. For Alex, we know little of his strengths at the moment, but if we were to complete a TRAX and enquire about strengths we might start to see a more hope-engendered future for him. The factors considered in each sub-domain include both static and dynamic factors that are correlated with the likelihood of reoffending. These factors are relevant to both child protection and youth justice workers: aspects such as engagement in education are equally important to both fields, but their meaning is interpreted in different ways. Through the child protection lens, when a young person is not attending school this is an area of need that impacts on wellbeing; through the youth justice lens, when a young person is not attending school, their idle time and lack of participation in education places them at greater risk of future offending. Because TRAX has been built digitally within CYRAS, the Child, Youth and Family case recording system, it is able to include unique features that go beyond the limitations of paper-based assessments. These features include the ability to select the field of practice at the beginning of the assessment. Features, such as an offence analysis and a measure of offending-related need are unique to the youth justice version and give life to the risk principle referred to in the RNR model. Drawing on diverse theories and models to develop a tool for use in youth justice and care and protection has been challenging, but ultimately has yielded a better result. The reality for many of our high-risk young people is that they come into contact with both care and protection and youth justice services in the organisation. Using the one tool to help understand and assess their situation offers greater consistency. Bridging the gap from theory to practice In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, in practice there is. Yogi Berra The development of an assessment tool on its own is not going to lead to reduced offending or better outcomes for young people at risk. The tool is merely a vehicle. Although TRAX aims to support a practitioner s analysis and guide targeted intervention, it is essential that we consider the practice imperatives for the introduction of a new tool. This means considering the framework within which the tool is applied, as well as the practitioner s ability to engage, analyse and apply critical thought to their assessment. The development of TRAX provided a unique opportunity to reconsider the assessment pathway within Child, Youth and Family. As part of the project, we undertook an evaluation of how the existing assessment tools were being used and a review of the policy, legal and practice context within which assessment occurs. This revealed that the approach to assessing young people within care and protection and youth justice could be strengthened. Practice varied and although policy was adhered to, there seemed to be few examples of going beyond policy and using assessment as a means of achieving better planning and outcomes for young people. Redefining the operational policy, providing guidance on assessment with young people and delivery of training are just some of the tangible 16 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

19 Practice Directions steps taken to improve the assessment pathway. We know that not all children or young people referred to Child, Youth and Family on the basis of offending or care and protection require an indepth social work assessment, however determining who does can at times be difficult. Therefore the approach is two-fold: improve the policy and place greater emphasis on using consultation and professional judgement to determine the need. In tackling these, we have updated Operational Policy and placed particular emphasis on ensuring all those considered highrisk go through a comprehensive assessment process using TRAX and that this information is available for key decision-making points such as family group conferences and Court. A practitioner s willingness, skill and ability are quintessential to undertaking thorough, considered and meaningful assessment; similarly their ability to take assessment findings and translate them into enduring and effective interventions is crucial. Like a builder who can never blame his tools, social workers have been trained to translate the use of a resource such as TRAX into practice. Engagement with the young person, their family/whänau, and other professionals is essential; so too is their ability to analyse and interpret the information gleaned. From here, effective intervention is born. The beginning of this article started with a brief description of Alex and the challenges he was facing. Tales of lives like Alex s are commonplace in the field of social work. This means having the belief that there is hope and potential for change is a prerequisite for the profession. TRAX is a resource to help social workers in their efforts to be agents of change. Alex needs someone who can walk alongside him and understand his needs, hopes, dreams and strengths; however he also needs someone with the expertise to guide, advocate and act. If Alex had the kind of social worker with these practice skills who undertook an assessment using TRAX, the context of his situation would be better understood. The social worker s ability to analyse the situation entirely would mean that Alex s strengths, needs and risks would be clearly identified so that effective intervention planning could begin. REFERENCES Andrews, D.A. & Bonta, J. ( 2007). Risk-Need-Responsivity Model for Offender Assessment and Rehabilitation. Ottawa: Public Safety Canada. Becroft, A. (2004). Youth Justice in New Zealand: Future challenges A paper presented at the New Zealand Youth Justice Conference. Wellington: New Zealand Youth Court. Bronfenbrenner, U. (1979). The ecology of human development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Chong, J. (2007). Youth Justice Statistics in New Zealand Wellington: Ministry of Justice. Carlson, N. & Buskist, W. (1997). Psychology: The science of behavior (5th ed). Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Day, A., Howells, K. & Rickwood, D. (2004). Current Trends in the Rehabilitation of Juvenile Offenders. Trends & Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice, no Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology. Durie, M. (1998). Whaiora: Mäori Health Development (2nd ed). Auckland: Oxford University Press. Goldstein, H. (1973). Social Work Practice: A unitary approach. South Carolina: University of South Carolina Press. Graybeal, C. (2001). Strengths-based social work assessment: Transforming the dominant paradigm. Families in Society, 82(3), Greene, R.R. (2008). Human behaviour theory, person in environment. In R.R. Greene (Ed.), Human Behaviour Theory and Social Work. Brunswick, New Jersey: Transaction Publishers. Kirst-Ashman, K.K. & Grafton, H.H. (2009). Understanding Generalist Practice (5th ed). Belmont, USA: Brooks/Cole. McLaren, K. (2000). Tough is not Enough. Getting Smart about Youth Crime. Wellington: Ministry of Youth Affairs. Pardeck, J.T. (1996). An Ecological Approach. Westport, USA: Greenwood Publishing Group. Pincus, A. & Minahan, A. (1973). Social Work Practice: Model and Method. Itasca, ILL: F. E. Peacock. Pincus, A. & Minahan, A. (1977) Social Work Practice: Model and Method. In H. Specht & A. Vickery (Eds.) Integrating Social Work Methods. London: Allen & Unwin. Rosetti, F. (1980). The relevance of unitary models in social work with adolescents. In R. Jones & C. Pritchard (Eds.), Social Work with Adolescents. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd. Thompson, C. & Stewart, A. (2006). Review of Empirically Based Risk/Needs Assessment Tools for Youth Justice: Amended report for public release. Brisbane: Griffith University. 17

20 Bringing it together: Assessing parenting capacity in the child protection context Jonelle Crawford Assessing parenting capacity is a core component of child protection social work and something that all social workers do from their very first interaction with a parent. An assessment of parenting capacity involves determining the parent s capacity, insight and knowledge to provide safe and appropriate care for their child. Assessing parenting capacity is not a one-off exercise; continual review may indicate the need for further assessment at different points in time to ensure the care being provided to the child is continuing to meet their needs. This article begins with a general overview of the factors that child protection social workers consider when undertaking a parenting capacity assessment, including the importance of putting the child at the centre of the assessment and understanding the impact that one s own values and beliefs can have on the process. From there it provides practical suggestions on the areas explored in the assessment of parenting capacity as well as things to consider when bringing everything together. Defining competent parenting, parenting capacity and parenting ability Statutory social workers often struggle with feeling like they have to decide if a parent is competent and has the capacity to carry out their parenting role safely and appropriately. This intrusion into a usually private area of family life can be a daunting and overwhelming proposition, and one that sits uncomfortably for many social workers. However, assessing parenting capacity is not about making decisions based on values, judgements or gut instincts, but rather about gathering clear and factual information weighed against the child s specific needs. This then lays the foundation for analysing this information to help formulate an evidencebased conclusion about the parent s capacity to provide enduring safe care for their child within a particular setting. In undertaking this task, social workers begin with a baseline definition of the term competent as it applies to parenting. It is important to have a clear understanding about the attributes and qualities one would expect to see in a competent parent so as to measure these against the attributes and qualities of the parent being assessed. One such definition is that competent parents are simply people who show through their behaviour that they care about what happens to their children and who can restrain themselves from seriously harming them (Westman, 1994, p ). A competent parent needs to provide their child with the core elements of care such as clothing, nutrition, shelter, education and health care, but Westman (1994) suggests they also need to: be able to learn and relate to others develop abilities to delay gratifying immediate urges be able to tolerate frustration adhere to generally accepted values that restrain adults from harming others have the skills and knowledge to balance affection while limiting poor behaviour 18 SOCIAL WORK NOW: APRIL 2011

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