Thursday, 24 January 2013

Human factors thinking is central to child protection

I believe human factors thinking is central to child protection. It is not just another add-on and certainly not the latest passing fashion.  It is central because child protection activities are not only inescapably error-prone but also because child protection activities are inescapably connected to human relationships. In the final analysis a child is protected from abuse and neglect because another human being - a professional or practitioner - understands the situation, forms a relationship with the child and the family, influences other professionals and practitioners and those who control resources, communicates accurately about the problems, makes sound decisions and works creatively with others to make the child safe.

Thus it is most appropriate for human factors to be a focus of training for child protection workers. They need to develop and maintain the necessary skills. And human factors thinking can also provide a framework for monitoring services and evaluating staff.  That is because service quality crucially depends on how effective individuals are in maintaining an appropriate portfolio of human factors skills. So staff should be regualrly assessed. 

And human factors thinking also provides a foundation for the design of child protection services.  Designs which promote attention to the work environment, good decision making, clear communication and effective teamwork, while reducing employee stress and fatigue, should be the aim.

Different commentators classify human factors skills differently. Flin et al, in their generally excellent book [1], talk of seven skills - see my previous post. I would add assertiveness as an additional separate category, which Flin et al deal with under the broad heading of communication. I am also inclined to combine managing stress and fatigue into a single category

So my list of human factors skills looks like this:

Situation awareness 
Managing stress and fatigue

In the next few posts I am going to say just a little about each. To learn more try reading Flin et al or consider taking a human factors course (e.g. 

[1] Flin, R. O'Connor, P. and Crichton, M. "Safety at the Sharp End" Ashgate 2008