An exploration of the value of reflective practice for child care and family support service provision
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In the context of delivering child care and family support service provision in the Republic of Ireland the concept of reflective practice enjoys almost unquestionable positive acclaim within the extensive literature and amongst practitioners. The use of reflective practice is widely regarded by child care professionals as a positive approach that can enhance practice, inform professional development and ultimately improve the quality of service provision and interventions. From a policy perspective a number of key policy documents, for example - The Agenda for Children`s Services: A Policy Handbook (2007), consider the use of reflective practice an essential component to achieving good practice. Similarly, the extensive practice literature in relation to social work and child care practice reinforce this perspective. However, as a theoretical and conceptual entity there is little empirical research or evidence to substantiate the perceived multiple benefits that result from using the reflective approach. The aim of this research study is to address this gap in the research literature and explore the value of using reflective practice from the perspective of practitioners and managers who use the approach. A mixed method triangulated approach was used in undertaking this research study. This methodological approach included base-line and follow-up interviews with twenty practitioners and interviews with ten service managers. The study also included the use of an action research component. This approach was employed to elicit the views of practitioners implementing the Johns model of structured reflection in the context of a structured practice environment created by the action research process. Findings from this research study confirm the many positive benefits that accrue from using reflective practice as illustrated in the extensive literature. However, this research study has also highlighted a number of issues that prohibit the effective use of reflective practice by child care professionals. Inadequate training, for example, has resulted in many practitioners having only a notional understanding of the concept and the theoretical approach that underpins the use of reflective practice. This lack of informed understanding was particularly evident in the area of critical reflective practice and the absence of critical awareness evident among practitioners interviewed. These identified deficits have resulted in the process not being used to its full potential. There are also identifiable gaps in how practitioners are supported in their use of reflective practice. This was most notable in relation to the area of formal supervision, where findings from this research study highlight deficits in the use of the reflective methodology. Finally, this research study has identified the importance and advantages of using a structured approach, such as the action research framework, to more effectively and routinely implement reflective practice and maximise the use of the process to its fullest potential. Indeed, findings from this research study have highlighted that it is insufficient in itself to equip practitioners with reflective tools. Practitioners equally require supportive structures to reinforce and perpetuate consistent and effective reflective practice.
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