Find out what is happening at the Centre for Systemic Social Work.

"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'être is to bring a fair and respectful relationship based approach to all our work with children and families."

- Isabelle Trowler, UK Chief Social Worker

On 10 November 2017 the Centre held its inaugural conference. This was attended by over 300 children’s social care staff and colleagues. The theme was 'Evolution of Systemic Ideas in a Social Work Context'. 

There were presentations by Isabelle Trowler, Nick Pendry, Clare Chamberlain, John Burnham and Barry Mason. (Please see links further down the page).

The conference messages served to encourage, inspire and give practical examples. They explained how relational based social work embraces the challenges of complex family work. This is by using proven and evolving systemic ideas.

Presentation by Barry Mason

Barry Mason – Family Therapist and social worker gives a brief personal journey from his roots in social work practice in Islington and the development of his now well established and widely used systemic theory of dealing with risk in the safe / unsafe and certain uncertain quadrant. The move towards ‘safe uncertainty’ and the myth and dangers inherent in positions of ‘safe certainty’. Thinking about the complex nature of families lives and seeking to make systemic ideas more accessible Barry advises us to take risks, to ask questions of ourselves, to be observant of our selves. Barry uses a variety of lively case examples and discusses how paying close attention to the specific language we use, the kind of questions we ask, to introduce new ideas and experiment with difference and how we can construct new meanings with families in cases that appear completely stuck.

Unpacking Safe Uncertainty by Barry Mason [PDF] (file size 247.94 KB)

Presentation by Isabelle Trowler

Isabelle Trowler: The Chief UK Social Worker gives a powerful and highly motivational presentation on systemic leadership in social work, the need for change, her professional journey from Hackney and her views on state intervention. Isabelle emphasises why ‘practice’ is paramount and needs to be focused on and why systemic practice in social work is proving to be so incredibly useful. Moving away from a ‘blame’ culture to engaging with the ‘deep thinking’ needed, Isabelle sees a positive future for the profession where work is challenging and interesting – and even fun! As social workers increase their skills they should experience more autonomy and parity with other similar professions. Isabelle talks about the ‘partners in practice’, ‘innovation’ programmes and the ‘what works centre’ before going on to discuss national leadership and social work accreditation. Have we reached a ‘tipping point’?

Presentation by John Burnham

John Burnham - Barry, a renowned Family Therapist and a social worker, talks about how incredibly excited he is to speak at the Centre for Systemic Social Work after so many years ‘smuggling’ systemic into social work. Barry outlines his PPRR quadrant of problems - possibilities / restraints - resources. He notes the importance of the family as the experts and the social worker / therapist as one resource among many. Johns describes the evolution of the PPRR quadrant, how it was used firstly an internal reflexive guide for him to think about we deal with problems and how it developed into model for working with families and in supervision. John gives examples from his work with families and work with teams and how it is also useful in exploring positions people take and themes that emerge such as ‘love’ and. John emphasises the discipline of curiosity and the importance of staying in a ‘both / and’ space. 

Presentation by Nick Pendry

Nick Pendry: Nick Pendry the Clinical Director at the CfSSW and Head of Clinical Services talks passionately about systemic practice in social work - because it works! Nick describes what was done to bring a ‘top down and bottom up’ change with the implementation of systemic practice into children’s services in the boroughs of Westminster, Hammersmith and Fulham and Kensington and Chelsea. Nick talks about why systemic practice as a theory of change that works for families and social workers, based on not formulaic interventions but on the meanings families and social workers create together in relationships. Nick addresses the issue of ‘risk’ and for the need for therapeutic behaviour to run in parallel to immediate actions to protect children.

Presentation by Clare Chamberlain

Clare Chamberlain (CBE) – Clare is the Director of the Centre for Systemic Social Work. Clare introduces the afternoon programme. Clare focuses in on what should really be on leaders, managers and supervisors minds – what’s happening on the front line? How can we support practitioners more, improve skills? Clare emphasises the breadth of skills that social workers have, the impact of systemic practice on the staff in the three boroughs. She speaks about the importance of privileging relationships in social work practice, minimise transitions in services and bureaucracy and work with the complexity of families to sustain them and help them find their own solutions. Clare gives examples from practice of how systemic ideas are changing practice in social work in the boroughs. Clare then introduces Nick Pendry who interviews members from the first CfSSW Systemic Courses from North Yorkshire and Telford and Wrekin who give responses from their personal and professional experiences.