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Do Tools Rule?

The Munro Review of the United Kingdom’s child protection system promotes a vision for “child-centred” practice where professional expertise in individualising the services to be provided to children, young people and families is properly valued.

Underpinning the reforms recommended by Professor Eileen Munro were concerns about the UK’s use of “one-size-fits-all” approaches to the delivery of child protection services.  In particular, this included concerns about an overly rigid and routine use of electronic assessment tools as a substitute for the exercise of professional judgement and decision-making.This can be seen as symptomatic of the concerns described in my previous posts about “procedure driving practice” (i.e. the “tail wagging the dog”) in place of “good practice” remaining in charge (i.e. the “dog wagging its tail”).

Concerns about the application of standardised approaches to the assessment of children and families’ needs including, in particular, the use of “electronic assessment tools”, are not confined to the United Kingdom.

You may like to read and consider the linked Gillingham and Humphreys (2010) report on the use of “Structure Decision-Making (SDM) Tools” in Queensland.

This research identified that none of the specific aims of the SDM tools in relation to assisting decision-making, promoting consistency and targeting children most in need of service provision had been met.The research found that, rather than assisting the process of decision-making, the tools were often completed in retrospect to match the outcome that had already been determined.

Practitioners who were consulted in the process of conducting the research were critical of the tool “over-simplifying” and failing to deal with the complexities of casework.   The tools were viewed as an “administrative burden” that were being chiefly used for purpose of ensuring accountability for decision-making, rather than as an aid in assisting appropriate decisions being made.

What are your thoughts about the concerns raised by the Munro Review and the Gillingham and Humphreys research in relation to current use of the SDM tools?

Do the findings of the Gillingham and Humphreys report match or differ from your observations and experiences in relation to ways in which the SDM tools are currently being used?

If you have concerns about the SDM tools, are they about the design of the tools or about the ways in which the tools are being used?

Lindsay Wegener – Executive Director, PeakCare

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2 Comments Post a comment
  1. NSW has just implemented the SDM Tool and I am familiar with the related article and research, which opposes (in a critical presentation ) such practices. These were discussed from this point of view. Nevertheless, an important component of the SDM Tools is the Narrative, observations made by caseworkers into details of the presenting case. Also we must assume that professionals will integrate professionals practices when attempting to intervene into other people’s lives. i would very much like to think that child protection interventions would be taken seriously and will provoke necessary recommendations for a better outcome for children and young people involved.

    September 10, 2011
  2. Lindsay Wegener #

    Thanks for your comment Gisela. I would like to make the same assumptions as you have and it would be interesting to hear comments from others about whether or not they share your confidence in these assumptions.

    September 15, 2011

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