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Podcast Season 3: Episode 9 – How a critical friend can help shape your life story work strategy

Hear how having someone to share honest, constructive feedback is helping to shape life story work strategies, with Professor Richard Rose.

We were very happy to catch up with Professor Richard Rose in Darlington, to talk about the role he’s played as a critical friend for Darlington Borough Council and other organisations. Hear how having someone to share honest, constructive feedback is helping to shape life story work strategies.

Hear a new episode of the Creative Life Story Work podcast on the first Thursday of each month.

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Please note that this transcript is auto-generated and therefore will contain some errors and natural pauses in conversation.

DAWN: Welcome to the Creative Life Story Work podcast, where we explore how to make life story work better for all care experienced children and young people. Creative Life Story Work is an approach which can improve children and young people’s lives and their relationship with others at home and at school.

It’s based on the Rose Model of therapeutic life story work. Every month, we’ll explore a different aspect of creative life story work, and we’ll give insights into how you can use this approach to help care experienced children and young people make sense of their past and future. In this month’s episode, we’re back at the Darlington Xtra Conference and we’ve managed to catch up with Professor Richard Rose where we’re going to hear what being a critical friend can mean And how a critical friend can help an organisation shape its life story work strategy.

Delighted to see you here today, Richard. In real life, normally we just meet in a Zoom room. This is marvellous.

RICHARD: It’s amazing, but also I now have to watch what I’m looking like and I can’t have my pyjamas on anymore. Other than that, I think, you know, we’re all good.

DAWN: We’re here today at the Darlington Xtra staff conference.

And you’ve been delivering workshops to a whole range of social workers, family workers, case workers. But I’m quite keen to talk to you about the role that you have played with our partnership work in Darlington in your role as a critical friend and what that has been and how you found that.

RICHARD: Well, it’s always interesting when people kind of invite you to be a critical friend because, uh, when you, you have to be by your very nature a critic, a critique of practice you have to almost ask those, uh, questions that the devil would normally come up with and that’s hard when you’re actually a friend too.

And I think that, uh, the length of time we’ve been involved has gone from a professional relationship to more of a professional friend relationship. I think the thing that’s helped though is that it’s always been, um, kind of comments or maybe suggestions and maybe opportunities that have been well kind of presented but also well received.

So I think to be a critical friend with an organisation and in this case several organisations in this project we’ve been involved in has meant that it’s been much more authentic, much more honest and I think sometimes conversations that might be quite difficult to have, especially because most of them have been online, or, you know, written feedback, has been kind of, in a way, potentially full of hiccups and trips and so on. But actually not, they’ve been, you know, kind of thought through, well received, changed some thinking, altered my thinking. So, maybe critical friend has, developed somewhere else, but at the beginning, um, yes, it was very much, how can I critique something that actually might cause you hurt?

And realising actually that’s not what you needed. You just needed to have someone give you a different perspective

DAWN: Because they’re really interested in thinking about strengthening and developing relationships, so I think you’re in a unique position that you’re doing that at both the strategic level and really on the ground level with some of the workers that you’ve been delivering today and I wondered what were the connections between the two, what’s the same and what’s different?

RICHARD: I don’t think there’s anything that’s different in a sense of obviously the strategic thinking is, what needs to be in place, what’s the potential? What might be the challenges? A bit like we talk about when we do our training, and we use things like Ishikawa’s problem identifier. I think that the concept really, though, is once you have a strategy, and then you’re thinking about, well, the only way that that strategy’s going to have any meaning is by people following that strategy. Actually Darlington has, you know, invested, you know, a conference like this, membership of the Blue Cabin CLSW, to actually, you know, allow the opportunity and to provide the respect to practitioners of identifying not just what the strategy is, but the steps of how to.

It’s a bit like this, sometimes when I write articles or books, I’m writing about the process. I’m writing about the thinking. But very rarely can we do that without the how to. So I think in a way what I would say is that I’m not just in a, uh, you know, kind of a position which lets me see both. I’m in that privileged position to be able to explain both, to both sides, and then realise there’s no such thing as sides, that we’re all in the same space.

And so without, without practice, we don’t get strategy. Without strategy, we don’t know what the practice is. And what I’ve been able to be, in a little way, is the adhesive between the two. But let’s be honest, a lot of what I see is now being generated, not just by the practitioners, I’m kind of shaping strategy, but the strategist actually now shaping practice.

So I think that’s when you don’t need people like me anymore.

DAWN: So that’s fantastic, because what you’re describing there, you could draw almost as a circle.

RICHARD: That’s what’s going on in my head, Dawn. You need your slides up to show us the picture of the virtual circle. I think you and I, we’re very kind of like visual, and you’re quite right, you caught me out.

I was, while I was talking, I was thinking, so what would that look like? And, uh, this morning we were looking at that micro, mezzo, macro. And I was thinking this morning about how we could do that in the internal working model. But maybe that’s the answer to your question. You know, we have the, the micro, the practitioner. We have the macro, which is the organization. And the middle, the mezzo. And maybe what we’ve worked out is a way that we actually don’t need too much mezzo. And I hope that’s the case.

DAWN: Yeah, fantastic. And, as part of the, strategy, and we’re going to be talking to some of them later, I know that some of the social workers in Darlington have been doing your diploma, and I’m wondering how you’re seeing that playing out in terms of, in terms of workforce development really, and where that fits into that virtual circle if we were drawing it.

RICHARD: I mean, it’s a really good question because, my workshop I just finished actually ended up with several people asking afterwards, well, do we have training for this? And although that they, you know, may not have been in the children and family space, what they’re saying is, look, how do I learn more about this?

And then to be able to say to them, well, actually Darlington has invested in people attending the diploma and, the people attending the advanced certificate, and, you know, that allows not just the learning to take place, but also the relationship of being part of TLSWI, the community. And so they continue with that ongoing support and hubs.

But also what we’re seeing, and I think this is something from the strategic nature of training up, of promoting knowledge. And then allowing that knowledge to kind of not go down to, but to be shared across, if you like, that’s the joy. So today, for instance, I was able to point out several people that have done the diploma within Darlington workforce, and then connecting them with those people.

Without that strategy, without those people being trained, we couldn’t have had that. And it would be Richard Rose talking about this, this, what I think is a wonderful intervention. And then people saying, well, who can do it? And me saying, well, actually, there’s just me. Um, strategy had to be, we need our resources, but I think there needs to be more resources.

I think that there, we’re finding more and more how important this work is across the space. And today in this forum, we’re, we’re working with people, not just working with children in care, but children, young people, and adults, and how in therapeutic life story work and Creative Life Story Work. More and more we’re getting involved in working with adults, and I think that having a mixed audience of professionals will mean that the strategy of Darlington is, is, is making sense.

DAWN: And finally, Richard, if you were going to give some advice to a local authority who was thinking about taking those first steps in terms of a strategy for life story work. After your partnership working in Darlington and other experiences, what might those first steps be?

RICHARD: Well, I think for me, it would be that there would need to be certain people within that authority that would want to champion the concept that children know their story.

And there are, there’s no doubts about that, there are. And then it’s about thinking strategically what that might look like. So, policies, procedures, talking to Blue Cabin, talking to, you know, people that have been involved. And then starting to map out what that might look like. So I think that the creative All About Me, where you have certain young people will benefit from this, certain from more detailed and then from a very detailed approach, actually allows an organization to start their journey. So, as an example, and I know that you’re doing this at the moment with other organizations and same with me. We’ve got Cornwall, Highlands and other places who are now starting their All About Me, creative All About Me journey to establish that first.

And then while they’re doing that, training up people, looking at policies for that More About Me and TLSW, and then creating a process which we have in CLSW, the flowchart, which allows then gatekeepers to work out who will benefit most from what intervention. I think the other thing I would say is not to underestimate the authority that our carers can give.

And I think sometimes just doing what Blue Cabin did with South Tyneside, for instance, right at the very beginning of our journey together, which was to bring everyone together, like this conference, and say, What is this? And do we think we should do it? And if we did do it, what would it mean? And then everything else will follow.

DAWN: Richard, as ever, a huge pleasure to speak to you. Enjoy your workshops this afternoon. I might try and sneak in on one. Thank you.

RICHARD: I might need the people to attend. I’m only joking. Thank you, Dawn. Take care.

DAWN: Thank you. Whether you’re a foster carer, someone who has experience with the care system, or you work with children and young people, we hope this episode has given you an insight into how we can make life story work better for young people. And how you can use it in your own practice.

You can find out more about Creative Life Story Work on our website, And you can find us on LinkedIn and Twitter or X as it’s now called at Creative LSW, please do get in touch there with any comments or questions as we’d really love to hear from you. And if your podcast app allows, please do leave us a review as it really helps others to find our show.

So until next month, bye for now.

Produced and mixed by Will Sadler of Anya Media. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts by clicking one of the following links:

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