By: Kelly Dundon
When I thought about my experience and methods of using reflective practice, I wondered how I would ever be able to articulate and make sense of the complex, critical, and sometimes deep and painful thoughts that underpin my practice in front line child protection. Eventually I came to the realization that we all do a certain amount of reflective and critical practice on many differing levels. We can easily find time to reflect before, during, and after events, from the superficial to extensive and through our personal to professional lives. Reflection allows us to plan, articulate, evaluate, exact change, and perhaps more importantly, learn in the complex issues that we face daily. As part of our working with often disordered and dysfunctional children and families, with reflection, we are able to positively work toward best outcomes and in the best interests of the children with whom we work.
The importance of thinking reflectively, that is to break down and closely analyze the processes that occur in decision making, in child protection, I believe is an essential part of our role. Doing so helps us to develop a sense of what has been achieved, what is likely to be achieved, and what could be done better, the importance of which has long been evaluated by many writers, including Schon (1983), Johns (1996, 2000), and more recently Rolfe (2001) and Fook (2002). As students, child protection practitioners, and later in our careers as practice teachers, leaders, and in helping to shape policy, we are able with the methods of reflective practice to conclude, inform, and broaden our practice knowledge.
I began to understand the importance of utilizing the tools that were available to me long before I knew what it was actually called. In 1998, I grappled with being a broke student and 21-year-old single mother of two. I juggled diaper changing and textbooks and felt overwhelmed with the demands that were either placed upon me, or that I had placed upon myself. I needed a way to make sense of it all, so I began to write a few lines every night about my placement, theories and methods, thoughts, fears, and achievements. This helped me to really focus on what the issues were. Not being a natural academic, I found this very useful. About a month later in a seminar, I learned that I had been documenting my learning experience and that this was an essential tool for every student. I have now kept eight years of practice diaries—all strictly confidential, of course, but boy, you should read the contents! Some are highly emotional and not very productive excerpts. Others are productive and insightful. It is pleasing to see one’s sense of self develop over time.
I look at how I, and others around me, have grown in competence and thoughtfulness through this process. I can clearly see that at the end of each time we really think about what we are doing, there is what I call an “awakening”—the sudden realization that we are on the right or wrong track, that we can do this very difficult job. I see the clarity, harmony, and satisfaction. When I feel this way, it is almost as if I have lifted above the situation. I am able to see below and think laterally about the potential impacts of my actions, before, during, and after an event. I add that a major part of working in child protection is the responsibility placed upon us as practitioners and team leaders to make good decisions. We can, with reflection, be able to accurately describe in progress notes and through assessments what has led us to our decisions and critically analyze our practice without feeling the burden of blame.
A Model for Reflection
Borton’s Developmental Model for Reflective Practice, developed as early as 1970, is of great interest to me. The framework works in a sequential and cyclical order and is very easy to follow and recommended for first-time reflective practice. Borton’s (1970) model looks at three levels of reflection—What? So what? and Now what?
He starts with a descriptive level of reflection, which he calls the “what.” An example is: What is the issue/problem? What was my role? What was mine and others’ response to the actions taken? Then we move to “So what?” This concentrates on the theory and knowledge building level of reflection: So, what does this tell or teach me about my service user, about myself, about the model of care that I am providing? So, what did I base my actions on and what was going through my mind as I acted upon them? So, what could I have done differently? So, what is my new understanding of this situation? “Now what” looks at what we can now do to break the cycle and to improve the situation in the future. The broader issues now need to be examined if this action is now to be successful. Once we have done all this, we can look at the end of this cycle by asking ourselves: Now what might be the consequences of this action?