How systemic practice is changing social work

Fri, 10/11/2017

On Friday 10 November over 300 social workers, family therapists and senior leaders will gather at Kensington Town Hall to launch the Centre for Systemic Social Work.

Since 2014 Westminster, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham have been leading the way with an ambitious programme of training in systemic practice for social workers.

While its often vital for social workers to provide immediate support to families where there are issues about safety or offer practical advice over a period of time, sustainable change means people need to be helped to change their way of thinking.

Systemic practice is a way of working which emphasises people’s relationships as key to understanding their experiences. Understanding the complex context of families can help people to change patterns of thinking.  In this way Systemic Practice is different to many other working models.

Over 800 people across the three boroughs have been trained since the programme began.

Friday will mark the inaugural conference, which launches the Centre for Systemic Social Work. The Centre’s goal is to spread this best practice to other local authorities across the country and improve outcomes for children, families and young people.

The systemic approach has led to better outcomes for young people in all three boroughs, with an 8.6 per cent drop in the number of children taken into care since 2013. There has also been a 22 per cent drop in the number of looked after children (i.e children remaining in care) between 2013 and 2017.

Social workers and leaders from North Yorkshire, Telford and Wrekin, and Slough are already receiving training on the model from the Centre.

The Centre for Systemic Social Work will be working with three more local authorities next year. People who would like to take part can contact the Centre on There is also a leadership programme which is providing training for future leaders in the sector, entries for which close on 15 November.


John Burnham and Barry Mason, two internationally renowned systemic therapists
Clare Chamberlain CBE - Director of the Centre for Systemic Social Work
Nick Pendry - Clinical Director of Centre for Systemic Social Work  
Isabelle Trowler -  The UK’s chief social worker

Video message from Robert Goodwill, Minister for Children and Families.

Isabelle Trowler, the UK’s chief social worker, said: “Over the last ten years I have seen the interest in systemic social work practice ‎grow from a small cluster of like-minded people to a huge and growing national community of interest. The launch of the Centre for Systemic Social Work is symbolic of this progressive movement, whose raison d'etre is to bring a fair and respectful relationship based approach to all our work with children and families.”

Robert Goodwill, Minister for Children and Families, said:  “The Centre for Systemic Social Work has a vital role to play in delivering our aim of a skilled and confident children’s social care workforce that are able to provide the right support for children and families when they need it most. I look forward to seeing the positive impact I know the centre will have on practice across the country.”

Cllr Richard Holloway, Westminster City Council Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Young People, said: “Westminster's social workers continue to lead the way and make a real difference to people’s lives. Reducing the number of children in care over the last four years is a great achievement, as it means better life chances for young people and is one of the reasons Westminster’s Children’s Services was rated outstanding by Ofsted. I pay tribute to our social workers, whose dedication and professionalism continues to make a real difference for our young people.”

Cllr Emma Will, Kensington and Chelsea Lead Member for Family and Children’s Services, said: “We have always been proud of the commitment and hard work of our social workers.  We are happy to have shared our experiences with colleagues from our immediate neighbours and councils further afield.  This is partly why Ofsted rated Kensington and Chelsea’s Children’s Services the best in London.  It is also why we are happy to host the Centre for Systemic Social Work, which we are committed to supporting.”

Case study

Looked after children: problems in placement

A young man whose worker constantly felt he had to focus on the issues the young person’s behaviour was causing in his placement but was getting nowhere.  Supported by their manager to ‘change the conversation’ from having the normal ‘behaviour / getting the young person to comply’ conversation, the worker was freed to talk instead about anything that seemed helpful to the young person. They discussed his circles of influence.  The conversation led the young person to talk about a key relationship that was causing the issues in the placement and them to discuss together how to better manage this.

Systemic practice

Systemic practice is a way of working which emphasises people’s relationships as key to understanding their experiences and affect change. Families are worked with rather than ‘done to’. They are better supported to stay together and practitioners are more satisfied with their jobs and more likely to stay in them.  The idea is that every conversation is an opportunity for change, and so social workers must be given the tools to be more adaptable and react to different and complex situations as they arise.

The leadership programme

A new development programme is seeking the next leaders in the world of social work. Last year there were 83 applicants from 52 different local authorities, who formed the final 19. Four of these have already gone on to gain practice leadership roles. A fresh cohort is being recruited for 2018 – you can apply by emailing Applications close on Wednesday 15 November.

Last updated: 13 November 2017
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