The cultures of so many of our organisations are dominated by a climate of targets and performance management. League tables appear like rashes to try and provide us as consumers with a picture of the success of a school, hospital or police force.
In child protection social work this performance management culture pervades all aspects of the assessment process with social workers needing to complete certain tasks within a timescale, where problems are seen as being able to be resolved through the management of the task. The emphasis is so often on management, despite the focus in the assessment framework on the ecological approach to child development – the need to see the child in a holistic way and the importance of seeing the child in a wider context.
This emphasis on targets often allows us to avoid the bigger picture; we are myopic in our approach and concentrate solely on the individual. This is not to denigrate the good work that is done in the child protection field, nor is it to state that people don’t have individual needs nor that targets have a place; of course they do. However, by looking at things through a microscope we sometimes avoid seeing the house burning.
The importance of the context that people live in cannot be overstated. I was reminded of this the other day when I heard on the radio about The Learning Outside the Classroom Manifesto, which was launched 28 November 2006 and which “sets out a vision to enable every young person to experience the world beyond the classroom as an essential part of their learning and personal development”.1
The crucial aspect of this in an educational context is that it recognises that “…often the most memorable learning experiences, help us to make sense of the world around us by making links between feelings and learning. They stay with us into adulthood and affect our behaviour, lifestyle and work. They influence our values and the decisions we make. They allow us to transfer learning experienced outside to the classroom and vice versa”2.
This concept links to some of the ideas I was exploring with my colleague Dr Lynn Minnaert in July’s Children Webmag3 when we were looking at the issue of social tourism and the benefits holidays can have for children. Why I think this is important is that it begins to challenge the issue of deprivation which underlines much of poor educational performance and other social problems.
One of the most interesting things I did this year was to take a group of students on a trip to a project for young people in Corby called Adrenaline Alley4, which is project for young people that provide a setting for urban sports (skateboarding and BMX riding). This project was set up by a charismatic woman in response to antisocial behaviour.
It seems to me that in this situation she had two major choices. One would have involved requesting the local Police to do something and for ASBOS to be ‘slapped on’ the offenders, or she could have taken the route to mobilise the community, listen to the young people and respond to what they felt they needed. Mandy Young, the founder of the project chose the second road and by setting up the project has listened to the needs of the young people, involved them in the project and begun to tackle some of the antisocial behaviour and wider community problems.
Too much of our services concentrate on individual pathology rather than addressing the needs of the specific individuals within their communities. Listening to their needs could result in setting up a skate park, or organising a trip away, or maybe even helping a young person to gain the social skills and confidence to be able to go and start trying to find work.
As Thomas Merton once said, “The least of learning is done in the classroom”.
1http://www.dfes.gov.uk (accessed 10/7/2007)
2http://www.teachernet.gov.uk (accessed 10/7/2007)
3http://www.thetcj.org (accessed 10/7/2007)
4http://www.adrenalinealley.co.uk (accessed 10/7/2007)