Walking in Fred’s shoes

23 August 2021

Alison Cowper is the Service Manager with the Independent Care and Review Team (Children and Families) at Glasgow City Health and Social Care Partnership. Here she writes about how the question of ‘what does this mean for Fred?’ influenced the work undertaken with CELCIS to look at process-mapping their support for children and young people with care experience, and its impact on future decision making.

CELCIS has been working alongside us to help us understand the current pathway from pre-birth planning to aftercare, to inform how we re-evaluate our current processes for our looked after children and young people. The focus was not on written procedures, but rather on how ‘the system’ actually operates in practice, identifying areas of strength and also what could be improved. Building on this greater understanding of our processes, we saw this as an opportunity to re-set how we work, and really embed Glasgow’s values through the care and support we give.

Hearing and listening to the voice of the child

To highlight the significance of the experience of a child, we created the fictional example of a young person called Fred and followed his journey from pre-birth to continuing care to help us to map and understand our current processes.

Fred’s journey illustrated what his experience could be - the various processes, people, guidance and legislation that would affect him from pre-birth to the age of 26 years old, including becoming a parent at 22 years old. Holding Fred in mind brought to life the many processes followed throughout his care experience and allowed us to focus on what is right for each child we support – and not what is simpler for the professionals and systems in place to support them. It really helped to ground our thinking and it was important to view our decisions and planning through the lens of a child, and not just through our lens, as practitioners. We truly became the team around Fred and kept him at the centre of all of our thinking.

While caring for Fred, we stopped thinking as busy social workers trying to navigate complex systems and processes, and continually checked in with Fred’s journey, feelings and experiences at each point, asking ourselves: "Where's Fred in this? What's he thinking and feeling right now? What sense is he making of all of this? How can we check in with Fred about what would help him at this point?". Because if our processes are complicated for practitioners, what do they mean for our children, young people and families?

Children at the centre

Thinking about Fred led us to reflect further on the children and young people whom we had supported throughout our careers. Sometimes we felt proud of our practice, but it was also painful to think about where we could have done even more if systems had not created so many procedural barriers to overcome. Continually thinking about what Fred might be experiencing at every stage of the process was grounding, reminding us of what’s really important and what we needed to do moving forward. Walking in a child’s shoes is crucial in considering the language, approach and decisions made if our processes and our practice is to truly be designed to have children at the centre.

This has been an incredibly worthwhile and invaluable experience - to stop, breathe, take a balcony view and really ask ourselves why we do certain things, and do we really need to keep doing things the same way? And ultimately, what does this individual child need?

By walking in Fred's shoes we now know which path we need to take. The one that leads us not just to improving our new written set of procedures, but to a system based on the values we hold true as social work professionals, where the how and the why we want to care for Glasgow's children and young people are felt on every page.


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. 

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