Relationships have been linked to resilience: the ability to adapt to change and cope with difficulty (Stainton et al., 2018). Masten et al. (2009) found that at least one warm relationship is needed for the promotion of resilience. Similarly have stability, continuity and ‘felt security’ been identified as key factors for its development(Wade & Munro, 2008; Cashmore & Paxman, 2006). Relationships are a big category, they include romantic relationships, colleagues, friends, family and even acquaintances, neighbours. If you ask 10 number of people what a good relationship is you will probably get 10 different answers, which highlights how individual the experience of how we relate to one another is. It can be difficult to translate these ‘warm and fuzzy’ concepts and definitions into practice, but relationship-based practice is much more than vague definitions. Relationship-based practice is beneficial for the young people, the workforce and the wider community (Hayes, 2018).
Implementing relationship-based practice is not only a cultural shift but a disruption to the way things are currently done. Particularly ‘managerialism’, and bureaucratic and regulatory processes are understood as obstacles since they prioritise tangible aspect of care, over the abstract of relationships (Schofield 2012, McGhee 2016). A key component to a relationship-based organisation is trust. This trust is multidirectional: managers need to have trust in the practitioners, practitioners need to trust that the organisation have their back, and of course, centrally, young people need to feel safe to build trust to the people who care for them. You, as the reader, might already be able to think of another few directions of trust necessary in your area of work. These different dimensions are linked and cannot exist one without the other. When acknowledging trust as the key foundation for relationship-based practice, it is important to know the flipside of this: anxiety and fear. These two emotions are natural and often felt when there is change. Awareness of their existence can help finding constructive ways to deal with them so that in their place trust and relationships can grow.
Relationship-based practice is inherently flexible and adaptive and will not look the same in 2 different contexts. However, there are guiding principles which should inform relationship-based practice. As a member of the workforce, you could take these and discuss with colleagues or read up more (starter references are below).
(Holthoff & Eichsteller 2009; Lymbery & Postle 2007; Hingley-Jones & Ruch 2016)
Some example features of relationship-based practice could include (Brighton & Hove, 2016):
It can be useful to reflect on how successful relationship-based practice would look like in your context with colleagues and young people.
Griffiths, H. (2017) Social Isolation and loneliness in the UK. iotUK. London.
Stainton, A., K. Chisholm, N. Kaiser, M. Rosen, R. Upthegrove, S. Ruhrmann and S. J. Wood (2018). "Resilience as a multimodal dynamic process." Early intervention in psychiatry.
Wade, J., & Munro, E. (2008). United Kingdom. In M. Stein & E. Munro (Eds.), Young people's transition from care to adulthood: International research and practice. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
Cashmore, J. & Paxman, M. (2006). Predicting afer-care outcomes: the importace of ‘felt’ security. Child and Family Social Work, 11(3), 232-241.
Brighton & Hove City Council (July 2016) ‘An evaluation of relationship-based practice’
Hayes, D. (2018) Relationships Matter: An analysis of complaint about social workers to the Northern Ireland Social Care Council and the Patient and Client Council. Northern Ireland Social Care Council
Hingley-Jones, H., Ruch, G. (2016) ‘Stumbling through’? Relationship-based social work practice in austere times. Journal of Social Work Practice, 30 (3). pp. 235-248. ISSN 0265-0533
Holthoff, S., & Eichsteller, G. (2009). Social pedagogy: The practice. Every Child Journal, 1(1), 58-63.
Lymbery, M., & Postle, K. (Eds). ‘ Social Work: A companion to Learning’, SAGE Publications
McGhee, K. (2016). Professional enquiry & development in residential child care: Unpublished.
Schofield, G., Beek, M., & Ward, E. (2012). Part of the family: Planning for permanence in long-term family foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 34(1), 244-253. 30
Ruch, G. (2012) ‘Where have all the feelings gone/ developing reflective and relationship-based management in child-care social work. The British Journal of Social Work, 42 (7): 1315-1332
Early life experiences shape our mind and body in ways that we are understanding more and more, especially when these experiences are traumatic. Trauma-informed practice takes this knowledge and creates a holistic framework for practitioners and organisations to create healing and safe spaces and ways of working.
First introductions matter. It matters when, how and where they happen. Many young people speak about transitions are often the most difficult times. In this Guide we explore how transitions can be done from the lens of relational practice.
What do IT systems and relationships have in common? Both usually run in the background and are easily taken for granted. Perhaps surprisingly, IT systems can have a big influence on the quality of relationships and relational practice in general.
When you know your goal you do whatever you need to do to reach it. But what if you defined the goal in the wrong way? In this Guide we explore how the goal affects your actions and how you can make sure that you are measuring your success in the right way. Are you meeting an outcome or are you filling a need?
One of the first things you learn when you start your job is when you need to arrive and when you need to leave. Have you ever considered that the pattern of your work affects the relationships you are building?
Organisational values influence the working culture. They can inspire workers to follow the organisation's mission. However, for them to have an impact they need to be developed with staff and young people.
It is important to keep learning and growing. Recognise your staff’s value and expertise by developing internal training and discussion sessions. Enable staff to learn and train more. Training should not be a tick-box exercise but a place for growth and reflection.
As is often said, hurt people hurt people – it is even more important to consider the flipside: supported people support people. Working with young people and caring for them can be a demanding role, especially in under-resourced and stressful environments. A truly relational organisation also invests in the relationships between managers and staff, creating a positive environment for everyone.
Relationships do not just depend on one person, but rather on a network of people and the culture of an organisation. Sometimes one person who simple ‘doesn’t get it’ can put barriers in the way for an entire team to become less relational. So, it’s easy to see why recruiting the right people is so important to create and maintain a relational organisation.
All relationships take time and effort to build and develop relationships with young people with care experience is no exception, perhaps being even more difficult due to their backgrounds however with the right understanding and approach you could develop a strong and positive connection which will benefit both you and your young person.
Relationships are essential to all parts of life and encompass both our professional and personal lives. They are a vital part of the support networks for our young people and the stronger the relationship the better we can all do our jobs, perhaps making them feel less like a job and more like a vocation. And perhaps more importantly, the stronger the relationship the more important a young person might feel.