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W3C Compliance

9.1.3 Observation of Practice Model Guidance


This chapter provides detail into the ‘Observation of Practice’ requirements as part of the Quality Assurance Framework and links this to the Munro Report recommendations. The chapter contains relevant Appendices to this exercise, including a Consent form and aide with regard to customer feedback.


Quality Assurance Framework


The Munro Review of Child Protection: Final Report

This chapter is currently under review.


  1. Introduction
  2. Rationale
  3. Inspection
  4. Principles
  5. Pre-observation
  6. Observation
  7. Constructing Feedback
  8. Final Judgements

    Appendix 1: Consent form for Observation

    Appendix 2: Practice Observation

    Appendix 3: Feedback from Service User

1. Introduction

The Final Report of the Munro Review of Child Protection makes 15 key recommendations that Eileen Munroe believes will “help shift the child protection system from being over-bureaucratised and concerned with compliance to one that keeps a focus on whether children are being effectively helped and protected.

She also wrote that although “This move from compliance to a learning culture will require those working in child protection to be given more scope to exercise professional judgment in deciding how best to help children and their families.” she is confident the considerable interest in the review shows that “there are many people working in the sector who are capable and eager to take on this responsibility.

Developments within clinical practice internationally and of specific models within clinical services such as reflecting teams, two-way mirrors, use of supervision and direct support for practitioners involved with complex case work, has existed for many years in social work. However such approaches have been eroded over time. In the current arrangements supervision of social workers working on the frontline takes place in one to one sessions with managers and may or may not provide feedback or reflection opportunities.

The Munro Review has placed systemic approaches towards social work practice at the centre of the profession and great store of the value of systemic approaches towards learning within organisations. This has included support for direct systemic approaches to practice with clients.

In response to the Munro Review of Child Protection a number of local authorities have funded systemic based training for their staff to enhance their skills and improve the quality of service for children young people and families. One of the key aspects of this approach is the need to observe practitioners whilst working directly with families, which provides opportunity for reflective thinking and feedback. The purpose of this is to enhance the learning of social workers and in turn provide the greatest impact on brining about positive change for a child, young person and family.

Creating and maintaining a learning culture in Merton is central in our approach to quality assurance.

2. Rationale

Munro Review –Developing Social Work Expertise

In Chapter 6 of the Munro Review about the development of professional expertise it is clearly stated that professional expertise if provided through the a range of activity.

Klein123 identified four key ways in which experts learn:

  • Engaging in deliberate practice, and setting specific goals and evaluation criteria;
  • Compiling extensive experience banks;
  • Obtaining feedback that is accurate, diagnostic, and reasonably timely; and
  • Enriching their experience by reviewing prior experiences to derive new insights and lessons from mistakes (P.88 Munro Review DFE 2011).

This approach is therefore intended to support social workers in developing and acquiring expertise. Underpinning these ideas is a notion that in order to help social workers develop effectively that direct observation of social work practice is a supportive, helpful and. a necessary component of the supervisory relationship between social workers and managers. In Chapter 7 of the Munro Review, Eileen Munro writes that it will in positive systems that all levels of management will make arrangements for managers to observe practitioners’ direct work with children and families in both family and multi-disciplinary contexts.

3. Inspection

The new inspection framework will check how local authorities manage and support direct observation of practice. It is important that direct observation of practice fulfil several functions including support of the development of social workers used to gain indication of the quality of social work practice within organisations and as a mechanism for gaining from service user’s direct feedback about the quality of work undertaken with them.

This approach is Merton’s first attempt to articulate how an observational model of practice will operate. The model has been put together in response to the first phase of Merton’s QA Framework where feedback sessions with social workers followed the completion of audits. These were well received and many social workers saw this as an opportunity for learning. This first phase is intended for social worker. Further stages will be developed based upon feedback from managers, social workers and clients to refine and develop the model as part of our wider framework for quality assurance and improving service delivery.

4. Principles

The key principles of this approach include the following:

  • The approach involves observation of practice of critical points for children on their journey. Any observation of practice needs to incorporate how children’s needs are being managed at a particular stage in the journey;
  • The approach requires respectfulness towards the sensitivities of having their practice observed for social workers and their particular needs of clients who may be vulnerable and sensitive to have in their lives observed by people who are not directly contributing towards service delivery;
  • The approach is intended to contribute towards the development of social workers and therefore there should not be an expectation that the work undertaken in the sessions is beyond reasonable developmental expectations of the social worker;
  • Given the nature of the work that the observation should always be planned and careful consideration given to how each individual session will be managed;
  • There is an underlying expectation that quality assurance of the work undertaken in the inherent part of this activity will be undertaken sensitively;
  • That the judgements provided by observers of social work practice should always be couched in feedback that maintains high level of curiosity about how social workers are thinking and is not overly judgemental;
  • That feedback is two-way and that social workers will be invited to make comments in the manner in which the observation has been managed to assist the learning of the observer and also the overall learning of the system;
  • That technical social work issues arising in any observation should only be commented upon by managers who are qualified to make such judgements.

5. Pre-observation

At the outset of introducing the observation model the expectation is that the social worker would choose the case that they wish to have observed. They can request direct feedback about any aspect of their work with a family from the observer as part of their own developmental needs, e.g. social worker struggling to manage non compliance from a client; seeking feedback from a manager about how they respond and perform under stress. The pre-observation session can take place at any stage prior to the observation and it is expected that the purpose of the visit and any particular issues that either the observer or observed worker wishes to consider are agreed in writing. (See Appendix 3: Feedback from Service User).

 Prior to the observation there is an expectation that the following would have been completed:

  • The family would have been informed of the intention to observe the particular elements that would be observed (home visits, office visits, direct work, meeting, conference or review). Permission should have been granted by the family to have the session observed. Ensure that boundaries of confidentiality have been made clear & are understood (see Appendix 1: Consent form for Observation);
  • There will be discussion between the observer and the observee about the purpose of the observation and rules drawn up (see template) about how the observation will be managed and how any issues or difficulties will be addressed where they to arise in the session;
  • Prior to the session taking place there will be a pre-meeting between the observer and the social worker about the purpose of the visit where it fits in to the overall assessment and planning for the child and the social worker’s intention in how they are proposing to use the visit;
  • Where appropriate specific goals will be set for the session by the worker in agreement with the manager;
  • Social Worker will advise the observer of the nature of the relationship and the social worker’s perception of the quality of the relationship between themselves and the children, family or the professional network;
  • The intention is to complete 2 observations a year and for supervisors these should be split across the two halves of the year to consider progress.

6. Observation

We cannot begin to improve the lives of disadvantaged and vulnerable children unless we identify their needs and understand what is happening to them in order to take appropriate action. This is why we undertake assessments.

It is expected that the manager observing practice will make notes of the session paying particular attention to the matters raised prior to the observation. Reflections on practice should be organised in principle in the following areas:-

  • Engagement and relationship with clients (relationship). (e.g. explaining the purpose, use of authority, managing conflict, maintaining strengths oriented approach).
  • Assessment - capacity to understand and utilise emotions in the context of the work with the client (reflexivity). (e.g. recognition of clients emotions, capacity to acknowledge strong emotions and seek understanding, using own emotions effectively).
  • Planning - Managing to work towards agreed goals for the session and for the work more broadly (e.g. progressing the plan and goals, monitoring and recognising success and clarifying where work is needed).
  • Intervention - Capacity to make change in the session and through overall planning (e.g. resolving conflict, re framing difficulties, provision of direct service, reflecting on changes made by clients and reinforcing).
  • Review - Oversight and understanding of direction of travel/progress.

7. Constructing Feedback

At the conclusion of the session with the social worker, social workers should be invited prior to managers making any comments, talks through with the manager the way in which the session has been conducted. Including:

  • Any particular thoughts or emotions about how the session was handled in the reflections on the process and the case;
  • Any matters of learning that are case specific or more generic;
  • Any reflections about how the evidence base social worker may have utilise or may think has a bearing on the session.

Feedback from managers should be constructed in a positive and sensitive way given the nature of the work.

Feedback should begin by outlining the positives in the session and the positives of the worker in managing the session.

Managers should ask questions of social workers where they are wanting to gain a fuller understanding of social workers thinking and managers should maintain curiosity about how social workers have utilised a session to further their work with the family, deepen their understanding of the family or to provide fuller information that will help service delivery.

Managers should be particularly encouraged to ask questions to help them and the social worker more fully understand the nature of the working relationships, how emotions have been understood and utilise in the session to further the work and more particular evidence based social workers have been using in understanding the family and progressing their work.

The observer should also focus on what went to plan within the session and how social workers manager to flexibly adapt to any particular issues that were raised by clients.

Within the model it is agreed that observers where it makes sense should ask service users their experience both of the session and their experience of receiving a service from Children Social Care.

8. Final Judgements

Managers are encouraged to provide direct feedback to social workers in line with the principles outlined in the Munro Review and timeliness of feedback is essential to ensuring that social workers are able to directly utilise the material within session to think carefully about their practice.

It is expected that within two weeks of the session that more formal feedback will be provided to the supervisee in the form of a very short report about how the session went and the manager’s reflections on the social work practice with some thoughts about how social worker might want to develop their practice based upon the feedback.

Social workers at the conclusion of the observation and the questions asked by the manager and verbal feedback will be invited to make comments on how they felt the session went and the point have been observed and how they thought future observations by their manager or other managers could be handled going forward.


Appendix 1: Consent form for Observation

Appendix 2: Practice Observation

Appendix 3: Feedback from Service User