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Getting sticky with it

Few would deny the need for shared learning. In the wake of a child’s death learning is paramount; the lasting legacy from such tragedy has to be a change for other children.

I am sure that we can all remember the learning from high profile cases like Baby P, although it was 10 years ago the findings stick with us and we work hard to ensure that mistakes are not repeated, that we learn and change practice to protect other children.

But what is the best way to embed consistent and meaningful learning across a large multi-agency workforce of many practitioners, organisations and partnerships? I firmly believe simplicity is the answer.

As kids we all learnt simple mantras…

‘I’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’… Stop, Look and Listen… If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all… If you know better, do better… Eat your greens…

These simple sayings get passed down from generation to generation. They are ‘sticky mantras’ because they stick with us. It is easy to see why they stick with us. They are easily understood, incredibly relevant to our everyday experiences and through their repetition, we begin to self-regulate our behaviour; they become second nature.

Now don’t get me wrong, I know our cases are complicated, but in order to learn we need to make the complex simple.

It is a real skill to be able to distil and crystallise a complex subject into a simple mantra that will stick with many practitioners across multiple organisations and support their practice.

In my experience, the best examples come from frontline practitioners or children themselves. I distinctly remember a learning event at my previous authority which followed a national Serious Case Review. The learning subject was focused on ‘how to hear our youngest children’. I can still picture a Community Midwife at one of the roundtables who shyly said she always tried to imagine ‘If this baby could speak, what would they say?’.

So simple, yet so powerful, it has always stuck with me. It is the type of sticky mantra which is incredibly relevant to the everyday experiences of so many practitioners yet has the power to transform their practice.

In Nottingham, our learning has recently focused on children missing medical appointments. A video animation entitled, Rethinking ‘Did Not Attend’ has been produced by Nottingham City Safeguarding Children Board, Nottingham City Council and NHS Nottingham City CCG.

The animation asks practitioners to do something very simple - to stop recording ‘did not attend’ and instead record ‘was not brought’ when referring to them not being presented at medical appointments. This simple change of emphasis is a powerful reminder that children do not take themselves to medical appointments; they have to be brought by parents or carers.

Simply writing ‘was not brought’ should remind professionals to think about the child’s vulnerability and question the underlying reasons behind a child not being brought to appointments. If we are to prevent medical neglect, does action need to be taken to support better parental responsibility? The animation is a very powerful learning method and we have received positive feedback since developing it.

So, how can we embed consistent and meaningful learning across a large multi-agency workforce? I firmly believe the answer is to make the complex simple and, even better, to make it sticky.


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