I wanted to be a social work superhero

14 June 2017

Jennifer McKean, Team Manager with the Youth Intensive Support Service at East Renfrewshire Health and Social Care Partnership explains the great work going on to embed relationship based practice in East Ren.


Like many I embarked on my social work degree with the dream, - ‘I’d make a difference; I’d be a social work superhero’.

Some might say that this dream would be quickly quashed in a children and families setting when the reality of high cases loads, reports and crisis response take over from planned targeted, meaningful intervention.

We now know that meaningful relationships are key, but what does relational based practice look like in reality, for a busy statutory team. Some might say it doesn’t exist, or it's impossible to create, but I want to let you into a secret! It's happening - everywhere.

But, as a profession, we don’t talk about it or celebrate it, and we don’t invest and encourage our staff to do what they do best… to lead and inspire our families, be role models, let them build meaningful relationships. We do this to challenge and encourage the families we come in contact with daily.

Changing the focus of services

Within the team I work our vision is clear about changing the focus of services for care experienced young people and their families. It has enabled a clear focus on engagement, co-production, outcomes and strong relationship-based practice to develop services that are fit for the future.

From the offset we had a group of committed social workers and support workers, who really believed that there was more to social work than sitting behind a desk, who care for the young people they come in contact with, but also each other in the team. They are leaders, excited and inspired by the work they do with young people and their families, but they are also not afraid to stand up and voice their opinion. This is encouraged and reinforced by senior managers, who embrace challenge, and support doing things differently.

What does relational practice based mean for care planning and risk assessment?

The development of relational based practice has also been key to quality assessment and care planning; in a risk adverse society the team has moved towards a better understand of risk, because we really know young people and families. We are able to look at risk not generically, or in a ‘what if’ basis but holistically using more professional judgement and giving families and young people the strengths to be part of the multiagency team rather than being told what to do by services. As a team manager I listen and chair meetings where practitioners are more confident of their assessments and are able to really engage young people and families in their own care plans, moving away for punitive or worst case scenarios. They are able to have honest conversations about contingency planning, whilst remaining understanding, compassionate and supportive. Social workers do not just appear every time something goes wrong, we are around to celebrate achievements, give advice, guidance and be involved in their journeys.

Let’s create a movement

What’s most exciting is that we are bringing others along with us, and not just social workers. Young people and families' views of social services have changed, leading to better engagement and involvement in all services across departments.

They told us that they 'feel part of a family' and that they know a team of social workers, support workers, managers, and staff from other departments such as Housing, Youth Services, Skills Development Scotland, our Culture and Leisure Trust.

Alongside this we've also embarked on journey with our Champion’s Board giving care experienced young people a platform to speak and influence their corporate parents. We've encouraged and engaged with young people to help shape services, policies and practices. As staff we have watched young people grow, develop pursue talents and become a part of a team.

Some might ask how this momentum is sustained when caseloads increase, and purse strings tightened. However, once you've built meaningful relationships, magical things begin to happen. You become a team, working together without barriers. Crisis becomes more predictable, and easier to manage because our families trust workers to support them through difficult times. They feel empowered and challenge is honest, open and truly transparent. It really is true that when you're surrounded by people who share a passionate commitment around a common purpose, anything is possible.

Together we can all be superheroes!

The views expressed in this blog post are those of the author/s and may not represent the views or opinions of CELCIS or our funders.

Commenting on the blog posts

Sharing comments and perspectives prompted by the posts on this blog are welcome. CELCIS operates a moderation process so your comment will not go live straight away.

Loading Conversation