Tuesday, 25 March 2014

Moving beyond blame in Tennessee

There is a very interesting article in the Tennessean recounting the Tennessee Department of Children's Services’ sponsoring of what is thought to be the first survey of child protection workers in the USA.

It is reported that the survey was designed by Vanderbilt University’s assistant professor of health systems management, Michael Cull. It is said to reveal that caseworkers involved in investigating child maltreatment, and rescuing children from it, consistently work overtime, tend not to recognize how stress and fatigue impacted their decisions, and recognise that the ways in which they work with supervisors to detect and correct problems can be improved.

The survey attempted to assess three things: the relationship between caseworkers and their supervisors, their willingness to speak about their problems, and factors that result in burnout.

Of particular interest to me was that the caseworkers were asked how often mistakes were "held against them”. This seems to reflect a very encouraging approach in Tennessee’s Department of Children’s Services, where it seems managers are trying to encourage staff to speak openly about their mistakes in order to learn from them. Tennessee’s deputy commissioner of child health, Tom Cheetham, is quoted as saying: "We've moved beyond a blame culture, where we won't ever really know what's going on. Our staff — everyone — needs to believe, not by our words, but our actions, that we're not looking to blame."

This is exactly the approach that we need in Britain – and everywhere else too. I would dearly love to hear some senior leaders of children’s services in Britain echo Tom Cheetham’s words. Without encouraging people to speak openly about their mistakes little progress will be made to make child protection work safer.