The amount the commercial Child Contact Services can charge for their services is constantly under strain. It is often the case that organisations commissioning services are dictating what they will pay for services and contact centres need to operate within this. The challenge therefore comes when considering how to make up the shortfall that is inevitably created. After all, the cost we face can only be cut so far before this has an impact on the quality of service we offer. Those centres that allow the quality of service to deteriorate are the ones that do not continue operating in the longer time. The challenge is to continue offering a top quality Child Contact experience for children, families and commissioners whilst ensuring that this is balanced with the need to be cost effective.
One of the best ways to ensure that children and families are protected and offered a high-quality service is to ensure that we invest in the people whom offer the service on behalf of organisations. After all, a contact centre is nothing without a staff team. You will know as an employee and someone who works with other people that staff and volunteers work best when they feel valued, listened to, appreciated, invested in and so on. Working with staff and volunteers in a way that makes sure they experience feeling like this will encourage them to take pride and ownership of their work, they will become confident and competent individuals. Families will see this, children will feel safer with the more competent staff and volunteers, parents will be more able to engage on an appropriate level and so on.
However, investing in staff can be expensive. There are industries that have grown from and thrive by offering services to employees and volunteers whether this be training or away days and so on. This article has therefore, been written with the aim of exploring how commercial centres are able to invest in the training that their staff or volunteers need whilst balancing this against other pressures.
To support the needs of centres NACCC shares learning that we are aware of and will offer this as a summery to a main source or as training produced by NACCC. A recent example of this was offered when GDPR was introduced and training sessions around this were delivered.
The training materials written by NACCC (and any other training being delivered) will always be best when a flexible approach is taken to the delivery. Please do not read out our training modules and class that as training. The NACCC training modules are a SKELETON, a framework, a baseline, a starting point (etc) for you to add to and build upon. Own the modules, make them your own, volunteers will be able to relate to the child who cried every session or the parent that was rude every week and they will have feelings and emotions linked to this. Use this emotional energy to support their learning through reflection around those events, how they were managed and how they might be managed differently next time. They stand much more chance of learning from something that is meaningful than they will trying to remember cold data, like statistics.
At NACCC we are in the very fortunate position of being able to see the best of practice spanning all of the regions covered by our Accreditation and share this so that all children are offered the best possible service when visiting a NACCC Accredited Child Contact Centre.
Some of the practice examples that we have come across at NACCC for managing this include:
Informal Supervision / Debrief / Reflection
The thing that volunteers and employees often value the most is those informal moments where someone sits with them and reflects on what a difficult few hours (days, weeks, months etc) it has been. This can be individually or as a group and why not include a cup of tea as well?
Talking to staff and volunteers about what has happened and how it made us feel will offer them the opportunity to explore difficult emotions bought about by work events, particularly when these have similarities to personal experiences. Let them know that the conversation is informal and that if needed it can be followed up in supervision. This might help the person to relax and talk more openly.
It will also offer the supervisor the opportunity to support the reflection of the team or individual in relation to that event, which not only promotes the learning of the individual but also looks after there emotional wellbeing.
Often recognition, praise or validation of thoughts and feelings can be valuable to staff, for example:
a. “How are you feeling after that contact session, I thought you managed it well”.
b. “Thank you for your support today, we couldn’t have done it without you”.
c. “How did that feel for you, I’m sure it can’t have been easy”.
d. “It’s ok to feel . . . . . talking about it is the main thing, do that I know how to support you”.
e. “I’m sorry that you had to experience that, It must’ve been a really difficult day for you”
When you have offered the opportunity for someone to talk, show them that you are interested. Makes sure they have your full attention, people are unlikely to feel valued if you are sat typing or doing something similar whilst they are trying to engage with you. Considering body language and how this can be interpreted is also important. It can also be helpful to offer verbal ques that show people you are listening things like “yes”, “ah”, “I understand” and so on show that you haven’t drifted away somewhere else whilst the person has been talking.
Formal Supervision and Appraisal
It is important that staff expect to have regular, planned structured supervision. They should know that this time is protected from all other distractions and that it is valued by management. Where supervision is booked a month prior to it taking place and then it happens in line with the plan, this shows your staff and volunteers that you are committed to this process and that you value it. This will promote the likelihood of them doing the same. Supervisions that are continually disrupted by phone calls, people coming in and out of the room of cancellations, become meaningless. Staff will find it difficult to pre-plan an agenda and to consider how this time might be best used. It is there time, let them have some ownership over the planning. There will always be things that management need to add to the agenda and in fact this is good practice, but the more ownership is managed by the employee the more meaningful it will become.
An article by Community Care (2013) explains that “the primary functions of supervision are: administrative case management; reflecting on and learning from practice; personal support; professional development; and mediation, in which the supervisor acts as a bridge between the individual staff member and the organisation they work for. Organisations are likely to succeed by having workers who are skilful, knowledgeable, clear about their roles, and who are assisted in their practice by sound advice and emotional support. This should come from a supervisor with whom they have a good professional relationship.”
Research into what happens within supervision suggests that effective supervision generates good outcomes for workers while experience suggests that “the consequences of absent, inadequate, or negative forms of supervision poses a threat to workforce stability, capacity, confidence, competence and morale”. Community Care (2013)
Supervision should be recorded in writing, soon after it has happened. A copy should be signed and filed by the supervisee and supervisor. This copy of the minutes should be mutually agreed and reflective of what actually happened.
Training is a work force happens best when a diverse range of training techniques are utilised. After all, each staff member of volunteer will have their own individual learning style and will learn best when training compliments this.
For example, those with a verbal or visual learning style are likely to learn by engaging with taught material in a group environment. This is likely to include things that they can see, hear and listen to and could include role play that they can watch and / or directly engage within. Different organisations manage this in different ways. Some organisations will simply pay a trainer to come in and teach a specific subject. Whereas other organisations might be more creative about this and utilise peer teaching opportunities, which work particularly well in Multi-Disciplinary Teams.
DMR Services, in the West Midlands will book out large conference rooms to bring staff together. Guest Speakers and Multi-Disciplinary Team Staff will them plan and deliver learning opportunities for the staff. The organisation has a large internal staff team and work with other professionals external to the company itself. This places them in a position whereby they can access Social Workers, Counsellors, Psychologists, Mental Health practitioners and so on. The Managing Director (David Miller), told NACCC that this works for them because the professionals in the MDT will research and then deliver opportunities based upon either their own interests or in line with the needs of the company. This means that the Social Worker is building upon their CPD whilst also investing in the learning of the team and practice of the organisation. Mr Miller went on to explain that his staff get a lot from these evenings because they are coming together, learning and having access to knowledge and professionals that they might not otherwise be subjected to. Additionally, this is cost effective for his company because he has managed to negotiate the cost of the room hire, so the only other cost relates to the overtime of those attending.
It is also possible to invite other organisations to come to your team and work with your staff or volunteers. For example, why not invite an organisation like Women’s Aid to come and work with your staff on Domestic Abuse. This is likely to be something that is far more engaging for them and utilising services in this was can usually be done in a cost-effective way, if not entirely free.
Those people that also learn best from visual, audible or social teaching methods could also join other groups to access learning opportunities. For example, Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards offer free training to local people, particularly those who work for a charity or not for profit organisation. Why pay for your staff to receive Safeguarding Training when this can be accessed cheaply and easily with a quick Google search.
Whereas material that has to be studied might prove beneficial for those in your team with Logical or Solitary Learning Styles. There are many different training courses that require people to undertake study in this way. NACCC has a range of work books. Our website also has links to organisations like SCIE and Derby University that provide free learning relevant to those in our sector that is good quality. Other organisations might also choose to commission providers like Educare to provide sector specific training often accredited by organisations like the Police or NSPCC.
Organisations with a Social Worker onsite might choose to work with Local Universities and take on Social Work Students. Students are a great asset to any organisation and really can enhance the working environment. Students come to settings with a range of learning and experience. The things that they are being taught at university is right up to date. Whilst on placement with your organisation students are required to be observed undertaking specific pieces of work, one of these could include them sharing learning with your staff team.
NACCC would like to hear what individual centres do to show investment in those that offer a service for the organisation. Write to us so that we can share good practice examples with other services.
Phil Coleman, NACCC Service Development Manager
References: Community Care (2013) http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2013/02/18/how-supervision-can-help-care-workers-improve-their-practice/