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Putting it onto paper: Recording and report writing

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  1. Putting it onto paper:Recording and report writing Patrick Ayre Department of Applied Social Studies University of Bedfordshire Park Square, Luton email: pga@patrickayre.co.uk web: http://patrickayre.co.uk

  2. Learning from enquiries Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it (George Santayana)

  3. Learning from enquiries • The importance of recording is not always understood • We don’t always think enough about Why? and Who? • Information not accessible • Incomplete or out of date • Facts and judgments not distinguished • Little assessment and analysis • Oppressive language • Managers not always fully engaged

  4. Comments from ‘Recording with Care’ A Director Says: ‘My staff are good at what they do, not what they write down’ A Social Worker Says: 'I didn't become a social worker because I wanted to be a typist or a computer programmer. I want to work with people, not waste my time in front of a machine’

  5. On the other hand A Team Manager Says: ‘I couldn't believe the information wasn't there! I kept thumbing through the file, trying to find it. I know we've talked about lots of things in supervision. I just thought it was being written down - but I don't have time to check!‘ Lord Laming says: ‘The case file is the single most important tool available to social workers and their managers when making decisions as to how best to safeguard the welfare of children under their care.’

  6. Framing your writing • You will want to consider the usual questions: • How, Who, What, When, Where and Why. • In the planning phase, start with • Why (are you writing this)? • Who (for whom is it intended)?

  7. For whom are we recording? • Service users • Social workers • Managers • Legal advisers • Other agencies • Insurers • Councillors

  8. Why record? • History • Support partnerships • Provide continuity • Facilitate reflection, analysis and planning • Support professional development • Evidence for resources • Management monitoring • Evidence for enquiries and investigations • Evidence of acceptable standards

  9. Formal reports May seem like a chore BUT: • Can get everything down (less risk of forgetting something or missing it out) • You can check the information and make sure it is accurate. • You can spend time thinking about how you express things • The other parties will read in advance, so may spend less time presenting orally: • Should only be asked about disputed parts of the report • The other side may not need to ask questions or may even fold!

  10. Selling you opinion What would you look for yourself?

  11. Selling you opinion What would you look for yourself? • Presentation • Content

  12. Presentation • Make it pretty and easy to read • Neat • Double spaced • One side only • Numbered paragraphs and pages

  13. Language • Good grammar • Good sentence construction • Simple sentences • No unnecessary, unexplained jargon • Appropriate tone (formal so no slang, no contractions, no use of first names for adults) • Sensitively phased (but not watered down)

  14. Content problems • Incomplete • Biased • Conclusions and recommendations poorly argued and justified (or absent altogether)

  15. The chain of reasoning Facts  Analysis/summary  Conclusions and recommendations

  16. What do they want to know? • Who you are • Why you are reporting • The facts of the matter • The conclusions to be drawn from the facts

  17. The facts • ‘It is the task of practitioners to share, sift, search for and weigh the significance of their information’ (Morrison 2009)

  18. The facts • Family composition (attach a genogram) • Background history (family and individual) • Recent events

  19. The facts • Tell the story chronologically without too much editorialising • Facts sufficient support your argument and also to refute counter arguments • First hand evidence is best but give source of any information • Make sure that you have put information as fully and accurately as possible (Checklist: Who, what, when, where, how)

  20. Seeking strong evidence Information may be: • Ambiguous • Missing • Assumption-led But can become ‘firm-ground’ if further enquiries are made or it is explored further

  21. Bias and Balance • Include information favourable to the other side as well as that favourable to yours • It is your job to make judgements but: • avoid empty evaluative words like inappropriate, worrying, inadequate • Give evidence for descriptive words like cold, dirty and untidy • Beware the danger of facts

  22. Bias and Balance Born in 1942, he was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment at the age of 25. After 5 unsuccessful fights, he gave up his attempt to make a career in boxing in 1981 and has since had no other regular employment

  23. Lies, damned lies and killer bread Research on bread indicates that • More than 98 percent of convicted felons are bread users. • Half of all children who grow up in bread-consuming households score below average on standardized tests. • More than 90 percent of violent crimes are committed within 24 hours of eating bread. • Primitive tribal societies that have no bread exhibit a low incidence of cancer, Alzheimer's, Parkinson's disease, and osteoporosis. • In the 18th century, when much more bread was eaten, the average life expectancy was less than 50 years; infant mortality rates were unacceptably high; many women died in childbirth; and diseases such as typhoid, yellow fever, and influenza were common.

  24. Incomplete or out of date

  25. Can you trust a snapshot?

  26. Information handling • Picking out the important from a mass of data • Interpretation • Decoyed by another problem • False certainty; undue faith in a ‘known fact’ • Discarding information which does not fit • First impressions/assumptions • Too trusting/insufficiently critical • Distinguishing fact/opinion Department of Health (1991) Child abuse: A study of inquiry reports, 1980-1989, HMSO

  27. Fact or opinion? • There are inadequate play and stimulation opportunities available. • The bruise and swelling are consistent with hitting his head on the door. • This is the first incident of abuse to the child. • The flat is unsuitable for bringing up a young child. • Mrs Green is good at keeping her flat tidy. • Experienced professionals are better at dealing with child protection issues. • Children who were abused usually become abusers. • The child said his dad hit him. • I saw Peter playing with his toys when I last visited. • Mrs Green does not display appropriate parenting skills when relating to her son

  28. Assessments • Assessment work is complex and emotionally demanding • Collation and analysis of large bodies of information from multiple sources • Continuous series of mini-decisions about what to collect, how to collect • Each mini-decision has an impact on the assessment

  29. Assessment Pitfalls • When faced with an aggressive or frightening family, professionals are reluctant to discuss fears for their own safety and ask for help • Attention is focused on the most visible or pressing problems and other warning signs are not appreciated • Parents’ behaviour, whether co-operative or uncooperative, is often misinterpreted • Not enough weight to information from family friends and neighbours • Not enough attention is paid to what children say, how they look and how they behave In Cleaver, H, Wattam, C and Cawson, P Assessing Risk in Child Protection, NSPCC, 1998

  30. Child centred assessment The purpose of assessment is to understand what it is like to be that child or young person (and what it will be like in the future if nothing changes)

  31. Assessment pitfalls • Rule of optimism • Start again syndrome • Natural love • Cultural relativism • Too much not enough

  32. Analysis • Studies (and SCRs) highlight problems in the quality and level of analysis • Assessments too static and descriptive, resulting in an accumulation of facts that are not analysed in a way that offers an explanation of the situation (Brandon 2008)

  33. But what is analysis? You have gathered lots of information but now what? All you need to do is ask yourself my favourite question: “So what?” You have collected all this data, but what does this mean, for the young person, for the family and for the authority?

  34. Analytic thinking • ‘a conscious and controlled process using formal reasoning and explicit data and rules to deliberate and compute a conclusion’ (Munro, 2007) • ‘Analysis should be seen as acting like a good secretary keeping a check on the products of intuition, checking them for known biases, developing explanatory theories and testing them rigorously’ (Thiele, 2006)

  35. Intuition and Analysis • Intuitive thinking – unconscious process that allows the integrations of a large amount of information to produce a judgement in an effortless way • Gut feelings: ‘take advantage of the evolved capacity of the brain and are based on rules of thumb that enable us to act fast and with astonishing accuracy’ (Gigerenza, 2007)

  36. Intuition versus Analysis It is the combination of intuitive and analytic modes that produces the kind of evidence-based practice by which social work knowledge establishes its relevance, expertise and authority Morrison 2009

  37. Decision making, intuition and bias • ‘Often a decision is made first and the thinking done later’ (Thiele, 2006) • As humans, we resort to simplifications, short cuts and quick fixes! • We reframe, interpret selectively and reinterpret. • We deny, discount and minimise • We exaggerate information especially if vivid, unusual, recent or emotionally laden and • We avoid, forget and lose information

  38. Good assessments are... • Clear about the purpose, legal status and potential outcomes • Based on a clear theoretical framework • Clear about context and value base • Collaborative and promote accessibility for service users • Based on multiple sources of information • Value the expertise and understanding service users bring to their situation • Clear about missing information

  39. Good assessments… • Identify themes and patterns • Generate and test different ways of understanding the situation • Give meaning to themes, using knowledge based on experience/research • Lead to an evidence-based conclusion • Use supervision to assist reflection, hypotheses and objectivity • Are able to record and explain outcomes • Are reviewed, updated & amended in light of new information

  40. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from SCR reviews of the 90s: Collecting and interpreting information • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Failure to give sufficient weight to relevant case history • Understanding thresholds, especially the importance of neglect and emotional deprivation and the need to accumulate evidence

  41. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from SCR reviews of the 90s: Collecting and interpreting information • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Failure to give sufficient weight to relevant case history • Understanding thresholds, especially the importance of neglect and emotional deprivation and the need to accumulate evidence

  42. Learning from Past Experience Major themes from SCR reviews of the 90s: Collecting and interpreting information • Importance of comprehensive family assessments, especially male figures • Failure to give sufficient weight to relevant case history • Understanding thresholds, especially the importance of neglect and emotional deprivation and the need to accumulate evidence

  43. Assessment and analysis • Suspected injuries and unconfirmed bruises over limbs - not explained. • Previous history of abuse by older sibling - off Child Protection Register • Single mother and new boyfriend • Concern by school staff about negligence in hygiene, clothing and school attendance • Growth at the third centile - no medical reason • Uncle visiting - ex-convict • Mother was abused as a child • Financial problems - on social security

  44. Assessment and analysis “He is a young boy who is confused about his current situation. Until the child care planning meeting confirms the long-term future plans for him he will effectively remain in limbo. This is affecting his ability to feel secure. He is noticeably anxious at school on Mondays prior to contact at home and he therefore learns very little on that day. By Wednesday of each week he calms down again”

  45. Conclusions and recommendations Problems: • Unsupported assertions or judgements • Inability or unwillingness to analyse and draw conclusions

  46. Conclusions and recommendations • Summarise the main issues and the conclusions to be drawn from them. (The facts do not necessarily speak for themselves; it is your job to speak for them.) • Define objectives as well as actions • Draw conclusions from the facts and recommendations from the conclusions • Explain how you arrived at your conclusions (Have you demonstrated the factual/theoretical basis for each?)

  47. Conclusions and recommendations • In drawing conclusions be aware of the extent and limitations of your own expertise. • Conclusions may be supported by research (Don’t go outside expertise; be careful with new or controversial theories; be aware of counter arguments) • Your recommendation should usually be specific (not either/or) • Remember: conclusions may be attacked in only two ways • founded on incorrect information • based on incorrect principles of social work

  48. Inaccessible information ‘it may be that a contributory factor in the failure of various professionals involved in Victoria’s case to read the file was that the information was not presented in a sufficiently convenient and accessible way...This is one of the reasons why I regard the inclusion in any case file of a clear, comprehensive and up-to-date chronology as absolutely essential’