2 things Child Protection Team Leaders can do to grow their capabilities and mental fitness

by | Jul 27, 2021 | Blog

Mental fitness is important in the complex work of child protection and in order to lead our team and oversee the vulnerable families they work with we need to put the oxygen mask on ourselves first or we are no good for anyone.

Our work is incredibly complex in general and to top it off this year we had the overlay of Covid 19 that significantly changed the way we work with our teams and with the families in our system. Talk about needing to be on our A game and being resilient!!

During this pandemic I’ve been working with frontline team leaders looking at innovative leadership and at the same time growing my own mental fitness by learning about positive intelligence and adding that knowledge base to my training and coaching work. Two things have come out of that piece of work:

1. Team Leaders must have opportunity to grow new capabilities order to be mentally fit and effective leaders.

Many TLs come up through the ranks and were identified as ‘a skilled caseworker’ and therefore, the assumption is, they will be a good team leader. Thus, they get thrown in the deep end of frontline leadership with little preparation or attention to the additional capabilities they need and ‘imposter syndrome’ runs rampant.

I was lucky enough to be involved in a piece of research over 11 years ago now where we identified the capabilities required for caseworkers and frontline team leaders by interviews and factor analysis of dozens of very capable workers from around the state. There were 9 foundational capabilities for child protection caseworkers and 3 additional capabilities for team leaders. For TLs the three additional capabilities are:

1. Results orientation

2. Staff insight

3. Staff support

TLs need to know what these capabilities look like in action and how to grow them! It’s not fair to have an expectation that TLs will just suddenly and magically have these skills! It’s a Johari Window thing – people don’t know what they don’t know!

I believe, like a supervisory relationships, the responsibility to grow employee skills and capabilities lies with both the organisation and the individual. Most organisations have training budgets and sometimes it comes as part of their funding. If you are a Team Leader and wanting to grow your capabilities, ASK your agency to provide you with the professional development you need.

2. Team Leaders need to look after their own mental fitness first.

Frontline team leaders manage up and manage down and still have close contact with vulnerable families, sometimes even carrying their own caseloads. They are the busiest in terms of tasks and statutory responsibilities in comparison to the first 3 levels of frontline hierarchy! (That was another little piece of local research we did!)

TLs are often looking after everyone but themselves until something like burnout occurs impacting on both mental and physical health (speaking from experience here). I wish I had knowledge of mindfulness or PQ mental fitness techniques 20 years ago when I was in a team leader position!

Learning easy techniques to manage stress and focus on self-care is critical to survival in this job. It is also critical to being able to supervise others, manage the complexities of team dynamics, cope with sometimes negative perceptions in the media and facilitate change with families.

I recently heard Brenè Brown on her Unlocking Us podcast talking with some amazing women named Emily and Amelia Nagoski about their book ‘Burnout’. They share some really interesting insights into stress and burnout and likened the process to a tunnel. It’s when we get stuck in the tunnel and don’t go through the process that burnout occurs.

Simple and easy mindfulness and mental fitness techniques that are easy to learn and do in the middle of a busy day are just one thing TLs can do to look after their own mental fitness. Positive Intelligence (PQ) is an easy to learn and implement mental fitness system that has great application to the child protection sector. The Team Leaders I have coached in PQ to support their professional coping and resilience acknowledge what a difference it has made to both their personal and professional coping and resilience.

Remember resilience can be as vicarious as trauma so don’t get stuck in the tunnel!

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Yours in mental fitness,