Summer Institute Week 2 – Developing practice skills

9th August 2016

The second week of the Summer Institute had a practice focus on domestic violence, as well as covering the key concepts and practice principles that inform systemic social work practice and Motivational Interviewing.

Teaching was divided across these important areas, with Petra Schmidt opening the week’s lectures with an introduction to the key concepts and practice principles of a relational approach. Using exercises, video clips, and encouraging participants to think about the context of social work and relationships, allowed a new view of how social work practice might be more systemic.  The participants enthusiastically considered context and began to develop their relational practice skills.

Tuesday followed with a focus on the family life cycle: understanding transitions and stressors in family life and using genograms as a tool for both assessment and intervention in family life. For the 2016 Cohort, being able to understand how their own family stories and cultures impact on them as social workers will be key to intervening ethically and professionally; enabling them to separate out their own stories and biases from the stories of the children and families they will be working with. As such, participants spent most of the day constructing their own genograms, interviewing each other about family patterns, and thinking about issues such as pride and shame that crop up in family life.

The day finished with a live demonstration of the Family Scripts approach by John Byng-Hall. Those who participated in the drama classes skilfully played out a famous case from his book ‘Rewriting Family Scripts: Improvisation and Systems Change’.   This was all facilitated by Academic Tutor Mark Huhnen who showed his keenness for both drama and the development of systemic social work practice.

The week also saw the Frontline partnership conference take place for the very first time. Speakers included Alastair Gibbons, Executive Director for Children’s Services at Birmingham City Council, who spoke about how they are working to build stronger children’s services in Birmingham. Clare Chamberlain, Director of Children’s Services for Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington and Chelsea, and Westminster, shared the journey of the Tri-borough partnership. While Isabelle Trowler, Chief Social Worker for Children and Families, spoke about the need for a strong focus on practice leadership at all levels of the sector.

The conference was an excellent chance for Frontline partners to share learning, but importantly also gave participants the opportunity to talk to staff in the local authority that will be supporting their work and development over the coming two years! It was great to see a room full of people talking about how social work practice can be improved, you could feel the excitement and hopefulness brewing.

Running in parallel with the conference, Wednesday’s teaching covered Motivational Interviewing, with Professor Donald Forrester sharing his expertise on how to develop these skills in social work intervention. There was also teaching on assessment and how to put it into practice. The week was rounded off with a lecture on domestic abuse by Jo Morrish from Safe Lives on Friday morning, with the rest of the day dedicated to a range of seminars led by Experts by Experience, Morrish, and the Frontline Academic Team.