Sunday, 11 October 2015

Safer Child Protection – technical and non-technical skills

We all want to make child protection safer. In thinking how to do this, a useful distinction can be made between technical and non-technical skills.

Technical skills are specific to the particular skills sets of various professional groups involved in child protection work. For example paediatricians can acquire better skills in the medical diagnosis of child abuse and neglect through clinical research and education. Police officers might learn better ways of conducting interviews with the victims of abuse and neglect or with perpetrators. Social workers might learn new techniques for listening to children and young people, identifying their needs and providing care to help them. Child psychologists and child psychiatrists might learning new therapeutic approaches to helping abused and neglected children. Technical skills are based on professional learning and knowledge. They are acquired through professional training and development.

Non-technical skills, on the other hand, are those skills that we all must have to work safely. These include being aware of situations, making decisions, communicating with others, responding appropriately to authority and hierarchy, working in or leading a team and recognising and managing stress and fatigue. These skills are common to all professional groups and are grounded in the psychology of human error, not in any particular body of professional knowledge. It follows that they can be learned in multi-occupational and multi-professional groups and that they can be taught without a particular requirement for previous professional experience, education or training.

Non-technical skills are sometimes referred to as human factors. Experience in a range of safety critical industries suggests that the journey to acquiring much more highly developed non-technical skills can begin with a short course focused on learning and improvement.

There is a sizeable literature on non-technical skills (or ‘human factors’ if you prefer). An introductory guide entitled Safety at the Sharp End is written by Flin, R. O’Connor, P and Crichton, M. It was published by Ashgate in 2008.