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From Transmission to Transformation: An Exploration of How the Use of Coaching Practices Within Statutory Children’s Social Work is Experienced by Social Workers and Service Users.
“I can be a better social worker. Still with that bottom line. And kind of a better human being almost alongside it. If there’s the coaching approach integrated into it.”
To explore both social workers experiences of delivering coaching to service users (accessing the broad range of services in a local authority family support & child protection service in the north of England), and service users experience of receiving coaching from them.
Social workers do not receive training in coaching in the UK. As a result, there has been little empirical attention paid to the use of coaching within social work and there is scant literature on this practice intersection globally. This is the first study to explore the impact and experiences of children’s social workers and service users (young people in care, parents) engaging in coaching. During the research period Ofsted judged the local authority collaborating with the research to be ‘inadequate’, finding serious, widespread, systemic failures in children’s social services.
“It’s about switching off from what I’ve been doing – get my coaching head out and pop it on!” Ben Social Worker.
This is a qualitative piece of social research. A ‘real world’ multi-method design was constructed in response to the participants’ regular availability to take part. The sample consisted of two sets of participants:
- Experienced children’s social workers who had trained together to obtain an accredited coaching qualification (as a pre-condition for the study)
- Service users who volunteered to be coached by the trained social workers
Social work coaches attended regular hybrid focus/coaching supervision groups with the researcher for a period of ten months. After coaching was completed one to one, semi-structured interviews were conducted with all participants.
“It’s helped me go back to making a difference and I feel a bit more hopeful about affecting some positive change. This is what I came into social work to do.” Kathy Social Worker.
- Facilitating coaching enabled social workers to reconnect with their values and aspirations to positively ‘make a difference’ to the lives of others.
- Foregoing habits of fixing and transmission (advice giving, directing, leading the agenda) during coaching resulted in social workers transforming elements of their everyday practice
- Social workers experienced initial identity strain and disruption when coaching (as they were no longer responsible for ‘fixing’ and taking control). As coaching approaches were internalised, they constructed a more flexible professional identity, customised to include elements of coaching attitudes and behaviours
- The experience of facilitating coaching rippled through social workers professional and personal lives
- Service users compartmentalised their hostile associations with the social work identity of their coach in order to engage in coaching
- Coaching prompted new perspectives which led to small but transformational changes in the lives of service users
- Receiving coaching helped service users to see social workers differently and to make beneficial changes in their worlds
Conclusion – Why this Research is Important!
Using coaching empowered social workers to foreground a practice based on growth and the agency of the service user. This differed significantly from their default of seeking to fix, adhere to procedures and control outcomes and resulted over time in a more fluid professional identity. This enhanced how they performed as social workers in a turbulent local environment experiencing a crisis of resilience, which positively infiltrated their wider professional and personal lives. Paradoxically, letting go of fixing and transmission based practice habits enabled social workers to prompt iterative steps towards transformational change in others and in themselves. Helping to facilitate service users own change agendas reinvigorated the dormant drive to make a difference that brought them to the profession in the first place.
“She was completely different to any other social worker I’ve ever met, and I’ve been through a lot of social workers! She hasn’t got that attitude. It’s two different people to me.” Emma Service User.
“I think in a lot of ways, it’s to help you, look at life differently, not from other people’s points of view, but from your perspective.” Angela Service User.
Suzanne Triggs, Year 4 PhD | Social Work Supervisory Team: Professor Brigid Featherstone and Professor Viv Burr. Further information or discussion contact: firstname.lastname@example.org