Practice alignment: How important is it in child welfare?

A child leaves their placement to attend school, where acceptance and belonging are contingent on adhering to the school’s behaviour expectations. They leave school to go to sports practice, where acceptance and belonging are contingent on being good enough to make the team. The child returns to their placement, where acceptance and belonging are contingent on the model of care being effective. The child leaves school early the following day to attend family contact, where acceptance and belonging are contingent on their parent being able to set aside their enmity towards child welfare authorities in order to focus their attention and love on the child. The child attends psychotherapy, where the therapist attempts to communicate a big enough dose of acknowledgement and care to compensate for all of the inconsistencies in the child’s life and support a strong and healing sense of self-worth. The child leaves care ….

Time to break down the silos and integrate a holistic approach in all of the domains of a child’s life.

I recently wrote about five areas of activity in a child’s life that together play key roles in achieving positive outcomes for children and young people in out-of-home care (read here). These five areas of activity involve contributions from child protection staff, school staff, foster, kinship, and residential carers (and their support agencies), therapists working with the child, and the broader community. Given the number of players involved, how important is it that they are aligned in their approach to the care of the child or young person in out-of-home care? Is it OK for them all to doing their own thing?

Is it OK for everyone to be doing their own thing?

No matter which position you take with respect to practice alignment, I think we can all agree that the child’s experience is the paramount consideration. It is broadly accepted that children ‘need’ consistency. In my own work, I talk about inconsistency being the ‘primary trigger’. We must be careful to not perpetuate that which bears resemblance to the inconsistencies that pervade a child’s experience in the home deemed unfit for their care and protection.

In my experience, children and young people will be triggered by inconsistencies in their care and management, no matter how well-intentioned. Practice misalignment is a very real threat to achieving best outcomes for children and young people who are recovering from a tough start to life.

So, what is the answer? There are comprehensive endeavours out there that support a common understanding and approach among the adults that care for the child across the domains of their life. Dan Hughes was one of my earliest influences and his PACE and DDP curriculums represent an opportunity to achieve the practice alignment children and young people recovering from a tough start to life need. My own work offers practical knowledge and approaches to care and management that bridge home, school, child protection, community, and consultation room.

Is it time to deliver aligned practice to children and young people recovering from a tough start to life across areas of activity and domains of their life? I think it is past time.

About colbypearce

I am a practising Clinical Psychologist with twenty-seven years’ experience working with children and young people recovering from abuse and neglect. I am also an author and educator in trauma-informed, therapeutic caregiving. My programs are implemented in Australia and Ireland, and I am well-known for my practical and accessible guidance for caregivers and professionals alike.
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