In the Most Challenging of Times, There Are Jewels to Be Found – Part One
I intend to pause, take stock and recognise some of the extraordinary professional dedication and commitment during this unprecedented time.
As many of you know I have been working in children’s services for over forty years, as a Practitioner, Manager and for the last 27 years, as a provider of Safeguarding Training, Consultancy, Advice and Guidance.
For ease, for both you and I, I am going to write this blog in two parts – I think that there is a great deal to say, and digest, professionally-speaking.
Since the early weeks of the arrival of COVID-19 in our lives, I have been engaged in two core areas of support and advice to the children’s services workforce:
First, I’ve been hosting a twice-weekly free Safeguarding Support and Advice Surgery. I’ve mostly spoken with Designated Safeguarding Lead Persons primarily across Education settings, including Mentors, Family Support, and Pastoral Leads in regular contact with parents and some cases, young people.
Second, I commissioned Team Support on both weekly and a bi-weekly basis for Practitioners offering Family Support via telephone and Zoom, and a highly specialist team in face-to-face contact with some of our most vulnerable care leavers, including in the residential provision.
Over these ten weeks, I have been honoured to provide support to these Practitioners and Managers. They have been managing themselves and their emotional responses to COVID-19, handling the often anxious, worried or angry reactions of their partners, children or wider family to them still working, whether on the phone, a Zoom call or in-person.
I was struck by the resilience of Practitioners, their emotional maturity, strength and intelligence. I have been deeply touched by the trust they have placed in me and the way that they have born several often raw emotions with their team colleagues and me. This is no mean feat as we are often ’emotionally contained’ as Practitioners, only perhaps sharing these feelings with our Supervisor, or maybe a friend.
I will pause here for both you, the reader and I, to fully recognise their levels of personal reflection and their deep attunement to themselves. Without this, of course, Practitioners can run amok amidst troubled people projecting their panic, anxiety and anger on others. A recipe for chaos, and in the most unaware professional environments ‘the problem’ gets projected onto the very people we are there to assist.
Please, if you think that I might be talking about you, I probably am. Please pause to allow my recognition of you (and everything you have provided to children and their families and young people), to sink in. You should feel really proud of yourself.
As you might expect, I have noted clear phases of professional development over these ten weeks. In the early stages of lockdown, these Practitioners most often shared with me feelings of incompetence and genuine anxiety.
They asked, ‘How can we possibly provide a real level of support at this time with only a virtual presence?‘, and…
‘How can we properly assess the risk that some of our most troubled children, young people and families are under?‘
However, with proper reliable levels of managerial support, guidance, regular check-in and professional supervision confidence were clearly building by weeks three and four – recognition of a conscious building of competence.
For some Practitioners who I have known for 20 years, I noted exponential personal development. For some of them, personal history, including ACES and attendant trauma in their own lives, may have been triggered. The deep angst, fear and terror might have been stirred up not only by this unprecedented COVID-19 trauma on a global scale but also as the coronavirus infection and deaths to family members spread across friendship networks, neighbourhoods and faith communities.
Yes, it worried and rocked them, but it did not unravel them. I have been deeply impressed by Practitioners standing together, supporting each other and truly calling on their professional supervision and leadership structures. It is the same long-established empathetic leadership structure that has been investing in its Practitioners for years, leaders who anticipated and planned for both Practitioner and Manager support early on.
These systemic observations have caused me to revisit Appendix 3, Section 1 of the Conception to Age 2 – the Age of Opportunity 2013 publication, (DfE & WAVE Trust) which includes recommendations on requisite skills and knowledge for the workforce. These skills and knowledge are exactly what I’ve seen people talk about in my Team Support and twice-weekly Support and Advice Sessions. They’re using their training out there in the community.
This is guidance in action. Delivered ‘live’ by Practitioners providing virtual family support and those in direct face to face contact with Young People.