A Concept and its Meanings for Practitioners Working with Children and Families Home / Critical Social Work / Archive Volumes / 2007 Volume 8, No.
(Hons)Reflexivity is a concept that is increasingly gaining currency in professional practice literature, particularly in relation to working with uncertainty and as an important feature of professional discretion and ethical practice. This article discusses how practitioners working in child and family welfare/protection organisations understood and interpreted the concept of reflexivity for their practice, as one of the outcomes of larger, collaborative research project. This project was conducted through a series of workshops with practitioners. The overall research that aimed to expand practitioners practice repertoires from narrowly defined risk assessment, to an approach that could account for the uncertainties of practice, included the concept of reflexivity as an alternative or a complement to instrumental accountability that is increasingly a feature in child welfare/protection organisations. This article discusses how the concept of reflexivity was explored in the research and how practitioners interpreted the concept for their practice. 176; Leonard, 1999,p. vii; Pease ray bans uk Fook, 1999, pp. 13, 17, 231; Boud, 1999; Briggs, 1999; Rea, 2000; Mosca Yost, 2001). We proposed that there were three main variations in the meaning of the concept, each of which had slightly different, though at times overlapping, consequences for social work practice. These variations are summarized below. In the first variation, reflexivity is regarded as an individual considered response to an immediate context and is concerned with the ability of service users to process information and create knowledge to guide life choices (Roseneil Seymour, 1999; Kondrat, 1999; Elliott, 2001; Ferguson, 2003, 2004). In the second variation, reflexivity is defined as a social worker self critical approach that questions how knowledge about clients is generated and, further, how relations of power operate in this process (White Stancombe, 2003; Taylor and White, 2000; Parton O 2000a; Sheppard, Newstead, Caccavo Ryan, 2000). In the third variation, reflexivity is concerned with the part that emotion plays in social work practice (Kondrat, 1999; Mills Kleinman, 1988; Miehls Moffat, 2000; Ruch, 2002). We surmised that the diversity of meanings that emerge from a critical analysis of terms such as and is indicative that such concepts are relatively new to social work and their meanings for the profession are still being debated. Further, that the diversity of meanings increases the possibilities for expanding practice repertoires and debate should be encouraged rather than some form of closure sought. In this article we discuss how practitioners working in child and family welfare/protection organisations understood and interpreted the concept of reflexivity for their practice, as one of the outcomes of a larger, collaborative research project. The overall research aimed to expand practitioners practice repertoires from narrowly defined risk assessment, to an approach that could account for the uncertainties of practice through a range of concepts (D et al., 2004; D and Gillingham, 2005; D et al., in press). Reflexivity was one of these concepts, that we introduced to participants as an alternative or a complement to instrumental accountability that is increasingly a sunglass ray ban sale feature in child welfare/protection organisations (Howe, 1992; Parton et al., 1997). As discussed further below (see also D et al., in press) a theoretical aim of the research was to explore how a concept, such as reflexivity, drawn from a social constructionist paradigm could be combined with practice approaches dominated by instrumental accountability. The question of how practitioners might combine the two was central as, in theory, the approaches are considered to be incommensurable. Risk management through risk assessment checklists was the preferred approach that aimed to minimise mistakes (Walton, 1993) seen as consequences of professional discretion and autonomy, and decision making (Reder, Duncan Gray, 1993). Risk assessment criteria as prescriptive checklists represented rationality that could manage the uncertainty and unpredictability associated with ensuring the care and protection of children living with their parents (Parton, 1998), and thus minimise or eradicate mistakes (Walton, 1993). Professionals including social workers were expected to adhere to procedures, with accountability to clients (children and families) replaced by accountability to the organisation (Bauman, 1987). The proliferation of research and literature critiquing these developments in child and family welfare/protection organisations ray ban sunglasses at lowest price has generated alternatives that recognise the necessity for professional discretion and participatory ethical practice with children and parents. These alternatives include the recognition of both the and presented by protective practice (Ferguson, 1997), the importance of critically reflective practice and (Parton O 2000a) between parents, children and practitioners, and reflexive practice that foregrounds the connections between professional knowledge and professional power in situated practice (Taylor White, 2000). The theoretical perspective informing many of these critiques and practice alternatives is social constructionism, that offers justification for re introducing professional discretion and autonomy, on the grounds that all social practices including professional practice, involve people making meaning through social processes (Parton et al., 1997; D 2004). This perspective challenges the implicit assumption of instrumentalist risk assessment approaches that there is an objective truth about the care and protection of children that can be established if prescribed assessment procedures are followed. In some contexts, such as in Britain, these critiques have influenced changes in child and family policy and practice so that instrumentalist forms of risk assessment have been replaced by broader family focused approaches (Ferguson, 1997; Parton, 1997). However, in the Australian context where the research discussed in this article was conducted, instrumentalist risk assessment approaches continue to dominate, as evidenced by the continued use and implementation of the Victorian Risk Framework (DHS, 1999) and Decision Making in South Australia (Hetherington, 1999) and Queensland (Leeks, 2006). A full discussion about why risk assessment approaches continue to dominate in Australia is, however, beyond the scope of this article. Exploring an expanded practice repertoire: a summary of the research The research that is discussed in this article incorporates these approaches within a conceptual framework that explicitly recognises both risk assessment and social constructionism as important to professional practice. We have not dismissed the necessity for risk assessment in some form, nor do we believe it is productive to dismiss the organisational contexts in which practitioners work. Instead we have explored the possibilities of an approach that accepts the practical, ethical, professional and legal bases for risk assessment, and the opportunities for the space of practice that is silenced organisationally and for individuals namely, the discretionary aspects of practice. The approach taken that accommodates both perspectives ( D 1999; 2004, p. 255 261), described as seeming incommensurables (Marcus, 1994, p. 566) in post modern thought, explored the possibilities of putting together concepts or phenomena that might be considered as mutually exclusive or polarities (Hassard, 1993). For example, ideas of (as absolute, objective reality) and (reality is relative, being constructed by participants) (Edwards, Ashmore Potter, 1995) are usually seen as mutually exclusive and oppositional concepts. This approach is known as (Heap, 1995), that accepts a physical reality that may generate a variety of plausible, and relative explanations and meanings depending on the situated positioning of participants (Reason and Bradbury, 2001, p. 6). For child welfare/protection, a ray ban metal dualist position allows for an acceptance of children lived experiences that include material disadvantage, oppression and trauma, and the necessity for assessment while also acknowledging that these experiences may be explained and understood from many, competing perspectives (D 2004; D et al., 2004). Child protection practitioners usually have to negotiate these multiple explanations in each case and decide which version is research that explored the possibilities of expanding the practice repertoire available to child protection practitioners incorporated three dimensions: theories of knowledge and power, related professional roles, and practice skills. The second and third dimension are beyond the scope of this article and here we focus on one part of the first dimension, the concept of reflexivity. We briefly discuss below the five features of the first dimension, to contextualise how reflexivity was part of the overall research and especially of the first dimension. The first dimension, theories of knowledge and power, draws on assumptions about knowledge and the practitioner relationship to knowledge represented as practice decisions informed by the risk paradigm and social constructionism. This dimension begins from the position that the risk paradigm and social constructionism are represented in theory as mutually exclusive, each with particular defining features. The proposed alternative conceptual approach moves from this position of mutually exclusive perspectives to explore whether features of each perspective may be combined in different ways in practice as a way of expanding professional knowledge and practice repertoires for practitioners (D et al., in press). Ferguson, 1997) beyond surveillance and monitoring that Donzelot (1980) refers to as families Hence the research was designed to explore the assumptions about knowledge and power underlying the main contemporary theoretical approaches to child protection, namely, risk assessment and social constructionism, that as abstract theories are considered as or mutually exclusive, yet might be combined in practice through the exercise of discretion. In this article, we focus specifically on how practitioners who were research participants were engaged in regard to the concept of reflexivity as either an alternative to or complement for instrumental rationality that was/is the norm in their organisational contexts. Generally, is taken to mean that different paradigms cannot be compared as each has self contained criteria that include what is relevant to the paradigm and simultaneously demarcates what is not (Feyerabend, 1975; Lee, 1994; Jacobs, 2002a; 2002b). Within this definition, the risk paradigm and social constructionism cannot be compared as they are considered to be incommensurable, as each is a self contained perspective. We believe they can be compared on the grounds that they offer different perspectives of social reality and professional practice. From a post modernist perspective that claims that one can seeming incommensurables (Marcus, 1994, p.
566) we have taken an approach that does not claim to combine entire self contained paradigms. Instead, we have identified a few key features of each paradigm as being important for professional discretion and ethical practice and have incorporated these into our overall conceptual framework. This approach also draws from Feyerabend (1975) conceptualisation of the need for of apparently conflicting theoretical perspectives so that theories can better explain/understand that may not be adequately addressed through single approaches.
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