The Drama Triangle in Child Protection
Watch social worker Ian use the ‘drama triangle’ to describe how children can view formal interventions from services.
For those of you who have experience of working in childcare social work, you might recognise
this in terms of if you're meeting people socially and they say "what do you do for
a living?" and you say "oh I work in child protection", you get a certain look, where
they go "oh that's a difficult job, how do you sleep at night, you must be carrying those
worries at home with you, you must see some horrible sights" etc. If you tell them that
you work in childcare they think you work in a creche and you get a different kind of
image, and a different kind of perception of the work that you do. We all know that
sometimes we work with very challenging situations, particularly those people that are known to MARAC,
the domestic abuse and stuff like that, and there are challenges for Social Workers. For
that reason because I live in Neath Port Talbot and my daughter went to school in Neath Port
Talbot, we sort of made it a point that if she was to be asked about what I did for a
living, she would say "My dad works for the council". She was also told that if I turned
up at school, she was to blank me out. Now being a teenage daughter she was quite good
at doing that in any case. There was this one occasion where she brought a new friend home
to the house, me and my partner were out at work at the time, and the friend looks at
the photo and sees a photo of myself and she goes "I know him, I know him. Now where do
I know him from? What does he do for a job?" and my daughter on cue said "He works for
the council", "Ah that's where I know him from, he's our bin man".
Given the choice
of being seen as the bin man or the child protection Social Worker when I visit a family
for the first time, I'd rather be seen as the bin man. And the reason for that is this,
a triangle. Not any old triangle, but the Kaufman Drama Triangle. This has been around
for about 50 odd years now, and it talks about kind of the dynamics that most of us will
be familiar with. In terms of team dynamics, sometimes you'll have somebody who'll go into
the victim role and other members of the team will then go to rescue them. Or sometimes
you might be in a situation where you're challenging somebody about their bahavior and they go
into the victim role, then suddenly you want to rescue them and pull them out of that situation.
I think it's a useful model to actually think of when we actually start calling ourselves
child protection workers, and whether that's actually a good thing to do. So if we use
this model, I'm a child protection worker, so that must mean I am the child protector
and the person I'm protecting is the child. So who's the child being a victim of? Already
we've created a dynamic there where we're actually accusing the parents. Back to the
triangle, I suppose if we were to ask the parents, they would have a different kind
of view. They would see themselves as the protective parent, they might have their issues,
they might have their difficulties, they'd have to recognise that,
but 'I love my child, I want to care for my child'.
So they're there to protect the child. And again if we think
back to Tina's case this morning with the mum and the video that you saw
"I was mortified when I was first contacted", "I'm going to lose my kids"
So already we're working with fear.
And I think Geraint the headmaster really put that quite succinctly this morning, about
when we're having challenges and under pressure quite often we resort to strategies that may
not be helpful, we might be less than honest about things. Like when you go to the doctor
and they ask you how much do you drink? or how much do you smoke? or how much do you eat?
you probably would give a different answer to what the truth is.
Neath Port Talbot,
from the director, heads of service, principal officers, managers always want us to know
what the view of the child is. So if we were to go back to the triangle, and think about
the child, I would argue that for many of the children the drama triangle would mean
that they would see themselves as having to protect their parent. And quite often when
we're working with families, we have to work through that kind of challenge because they're
quite frightened about what could be happening. They may want the Social Worker to be supportive
and help stop certain things that happen, but they don't want to be taken off their parents.
They don't want their parents upset and distressed. They may love and have a very
strong bond with their parents, but they may also want certain things to change. I qualified
just as the Children's Act was coming in and one of the criticisms that was about at that
time, was that while it was important that things needed to happen in a more timely manner,
there was a real risk that we'd end up being process-driven, so it was more about the processes
and more about the evidence, so that we lose sight of things. In 1993 there was a fascinating
study that was done where they took Social Workers from all across Europe and they got
them to visit each of the different countries. So the English Social Worker says "they didn't
discuss evidence at all, I wondered what that says about their system. We spoke about it
most of the time, I wonder what it says about our system". The French Social Worker says
"All this talk of proof and evidence, the child is suffering, can't they see that".
They also went on to make another important point, one of the principles of the Children's
Act is the best interests of the child is paramount and they said "In France we say
something similar but we say the best interests of the child is paramount in the context of
the family". So you've been hearing a lot about the outcome focused approach all day
and I think quite importantly, as we heard from Andrew Jarrett earlier, is it's not a
process, it's not a tool that we just deploy, it's actually conceptual thinking, it's important
that we think about our value systems, we think about our language, and we think about
how we work with people. So if we go back to the drama triangle, I would suggest that
the outcome focused model actually gets us to think of us as being the support to a family
and the perpetrators are maybe the issues about how the parents maybe manage their frustrations.
So that could be anger management, it could be the domestic abuse, it could be a whole
range of other things. How do they get support around their substance misuse? How do they
get support around their mental health? And also increasingly, because one of the things
that also happens is we quite often have big issues within our societies that we try
to deal with on a casework basis, and I think more and more we're seeing and the
evidence is coming forward all the time about how much poverty is starting to impact on
our families. 68,000 kids in Wales are likely to go to bed hungry during the school holidays
because they can't get free school meals. Is that a child protection thing or is that
a community development thing? Is that something about how we approach the work that we do?
So for me, outcome focus is a good tool. Signs of safety I think is actually a very good
tool, but unless you actually have that conceptual thinking about how we work, we are really
going to struggle in terms of bringing about change. So three points that I'd like to finish
on, we need to learn that the vast majority of our parents want to do the best for their
kids and we have to trust in that, and I think you've heard that time and time again across today.
While, and again this is the whole enquiritis thing, it makes us think about
things always from a severe child protection point of view, the Maria Colwells, the Peter
Donaldsons etc. And there is this thing about the rule of optimism that its almost as soon as
you start actually advocating that these parents have strengths, or maybe you're getting caught
up too much in the parents' abilities and stuff like that. But for me that's something
about professional cynicism that has come into child protection over the last 20 odd
years, and that doesn't really help us. And finally I think it's important that we think
about how we work to build engaging relationships. And that gets us past that issue of disguised