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Link s betwee n infan t observatio n an d re ¯ ectiv e socia l wor k practic e



¯ ectiv e socia l wor k practic e 1 S TEPHEN B RIGGS Summary Thi

Summary Thi s article explores the contributio n mad e by infan t observation procedures to socia l work. It initiall y review s three areas in whic h this contributio n ha s been made : social wor k training ; understandin g human interactio n in areas of socia l work concer n (such as parent±chil d interaction, chil d abuse and protection); and practice in speci ®c areas of socia l policy. Thi s article then takes the examination further to argue that the method of infan t observation ha s a key contributio n to make to th e underlyin g methods, attitudes and performance of social workers. Thi s is explored through a stud y of the link s between infan t observation and th e two concept s of `th e re¯ ectiv e practitioner’ and `social space’ . These contributions to effective socia l work practice are in opposition to currentl y dominan t legalistic, procedura l and competency-driven paradigms.


Ove r th e pas t decade ther e ha s emerge d a literatur e which focuses on th e applicatio n of infant observatio n to social work practice , theor y and training . Th e method of infan t observation , in whic h a bab y is observe d weekly, for on e hour , in th e famil y hom e for tw o years , was develope d initiall y for chil d psychotherapist s by Esther Bic k (Bick , 1964 , 1986) . In thi s articl e I shall discuss how th e metho d has been show n to hav e relevanc e to social work, and in partic - ula r ho w it ha s a relationshi p wit h re ¯ ectiv e practice . I shal l aim to show ho w infan t observa - tio n ha s a particularl y valuabl e role to pla y in contemporary social work as it struggle s to re - assert th e importan t dimension s of thinking , ambiguity , uncertaint y int o professional practice . Infant observatio n appear s to hav e been used in thre e distinct way s to illuminat e particula r practice , theor y an d trainin g issues. Firstly , idea s abou t th e applicatio n of infan t observatio n to social work concentrated on it s valu e to trainin g social workers, and ho w it ma y be introduced int o th e curriculu m of social work courses (Trowell & Miles, 1991 ; Briggs , 1992 ; Wilson , 1992 ; LeRiche & Tanner , 1998) . These discussions usuall y include d a shortening of th e rathe r monumental observa - tional programm e as it was initiall y conceived as takin g plac e over tw o years . Alongsid e consideration s of duratio n were idea s in whic h th e basi c method could be applie d to subjects othe r tha n infants . Thu s there hav e bee n discussions about observation s focusing on young childre n (Trowel l & Miles, 1991 ) disable d childre n (Bridge , 1999) , elderly peopl e (Mackenzie Smith , 1994 ) and institutional observatio n (Miles , 1999) .


Secondly, ther e developed a literatur e in whic h a participant-observationa l perspectiv e was take n to explor e how infan t observatio n ma y be used to discove r th e social world in area s of social work concern; such as infants at ris k (Briggs , 1997a) , cross-cultural relationship s (Briggs , 1997b ; Ellis , 1997) , th e proces s of ending relationship s (Nursten , 1997) . Thirdly , there ha s emerge d a literatur e concentrating on th e applicatio n of observatio n to practic e experience . In this mode of writin g about infan t observation , observationa l ap - proache s are take n by practitioner s in rol e in orde r to addres s way s in whic h practitioner s ma y implemen t particula r aspects of social policy . Thu s John s (1995 ) discusses work in a chil d pro - tection context, Trowell (1999 ) th e applicatio n of observatio n to assessments for court, an d Hindle an d Easton (1999 ) assess th e rol e of observatio n in supervised contact. Brigg s (1995b ) assesses th e way infan t observatio n facilitate s understanding of th e clinica l presentatio n of eating-disordered adolescents, an d ris k assessment of familie s wit h young childre n (1995a) . Mac k (1999 ) an d Bridg e (1999 ) emphasis e tha t observatio n ha s an underpinning rol e in work under Section 17 of th e Childre n Act (1989 ) wit h vulnerabl e and disable d children . Th e emergenc e of thi s thir d genre Ðre ¯ ection s on th e us e of infan t observatio n in direct professional practice Ð suggests a complet e cycl e is in operation ; students lear n observatio n in trainin g an d the n thi s is applie d to post-trainin g professional practice . Th e example s referre d to abov e demonstrate tha t infant observatio n has a crucia l par t to play in th e process of professional work , an d in th e processes of thinkin g abou t an d conceptualisin g thi s work. Infan t observatio n is seen her e to provid e th e practitione r wit h th e methodologica l capacit y to mak e sense of new or challengin g aspects of th e implementatio n of social policy . Thi s suggests tha t infan t observatio n ma y hav e a potentia l fo r in ¯ uencing social work practic e tha t is greate r tha n ha s so fa r been suggested. 2 It is importan t therefor e to consider some of th e features of infant observatio n tha t ar e bein g seen as increasingl y useful to practice , an d to understand how these factor s operat e in orde r to enabl e th e method to be applie d mor e widely . A discussion of thi s natur e ha s to som e exten t alread y begun. Infant observatio n ha s bee n linke d wit h re ¯ ectiv e practic e (Tanner, 1999) , an d Brigg s an d Canham (1999 ) suggest tha t th e method of infant observatio n has a contributio n to mak e to th e tas k of reclaimin g social spac e (Hetheringto n et al ., 1997) . In makin g these link s between infant observatio n an d re ¯ ectiv e practic e an d reclaimin g social space , th e argumen t ha s bee n mad e tha t infant observatio n ha s features an d qualitie s which connect it wit h wider contemporary thinkin g an d concern, an d tha t thes e idea s ar e in oppositio n to th e dominan t legalistic , procedural an d competency-drive n paradig m for practic e and training . I shal l discuss bot h thes e connections. Bot h re ¯ ectiv e practic e an d social spac e ar e concepts which nee d some de ® nitio n an d elaboratio n in order to locat e th e central focus of my argumen t

Infant observatio n and th e re ¯ ective practitione r

Re ¯ ectiv e practic e ha s become a rathe r loosely used term ; it is de® ne d bot h by th e work don e to develo p th e term Ð e.g. by Schon (1983 ) an d other s and by th e fact tha t it stand s in oppositio n to th e mod e of social work which is dominated by a legalistic , procedural framewor k an d sub-professional competence trainin g framework (see for exampl e Yelloly & Henkel, 1995) . Thu s re ¯ ectiv e social work practic e has an identity whic h is de® ned both positively and negatively . In it s positiv e de ® nition , re ¯ ectiv e practic e includes th e ide a tha t th e practitione r wil l thoughtfull y develop a stanc e in which s/he will re ¯ ect on her / his own practice , durin g engagemen t in th e proces s of practic e an d afterwards . Schon call s thi s re ¯ ection-in-actio n and re ¯ ection-on-action respectively . A beginnin g practitione r wil l expect to depend greatl y on re ¯ ection-on-action, whils t th e experienced practitione r wil l additionall y be able to re ¯ ect


durin g practic e encounters. Th e capacit y to re ¯ ec t in actio n depends on wha t Casement (1985 ) calle d an `interna l supervisor ’ an d enable s th e practitione r to constantly adjus t to changin g situation s an d ne w information . Kare n Tanne r (1999) , in an importan t paper, link s re ¯ ectiv e practic e to Bion ’ s (1962 ) ide a

of reverie . There is a ª famil y resemblance º she says, between thes e two, in tha t th e re ¯ ectiv e practitione r needs to be receptiv e to an d inwardl y processing of information Ð includin g emotional information Ð gaine d durin g practic e encounters. Tanne r demonstrates tha t ther e are connections between re ¯ ectiv e practic e an d infant observatio n at a number of levels . Ther e

is an epistemologica l similarit y between Bion ’ s idea s about reveri e and Schon’ s approac h to

learning . In both , learnin g fro m experienc e is value d an d there is a transformationa l possibilit y throug h th e processing of ra w data to develop thought s whic h in tur n guid e actions . At a prac - tic e level , experiences of observatio n undertake n by social work students hav e a generalisin g effect throug h internalisatio n of th e learnin g an d through th e developmen t of an underpin - nin g re ¯ ectiv e capacity . Makin g use of Pietroni ’ s (1998 ) term , `circui t breaker ’ Tanne r

suggests tha t this re ¯ ectiv e capacit y develope d fro m observationa l experienc e ha s th e capacit y to enabl e practitioner s to kee p th e needs of clients in min d despite pressure fro m institution -

all y defensive structure s and pressures to ac t in a drive n rathe r than a thoughtfu l way .

Infant observatio n and social space

In he r integratio n of observatio n an d re ¯ ectiv e practice , Tanner asserts tha t th e bene ® t of an interna l re ¯ ectiv e capacit y ha s th e potentia l fo r producing responses whic h ar e authentic

(1999 , p. 30 ) rathe r tha n defensive social work practice . In tha t this suggests th e potentia l fo r

a three-dimensional and thoughtfu l response to institutional, procedural pressures, th e ide a

comes clos e to that of reclaimin g social space . Hetheringto n et al . (1997 ) emphasis e th e plac e of professional judgement in a thoughtfu l `space’ . Th e social spac e is on e in whic h th e professional is permitted Ð and empowered Ðto work in a climat e in whic h psychologica l an d social factor s ar e take n int o account and the n considered in a problem-solvin g activity . As th e social space is on e in which th e professional exercises judgement, it is a concept whic h is base d on th e restoratio n of professional competence. As Coope r suggeste d (for example , in Hetherington , 1998) , th e professional workin g withi n th e social space is a master of law , rathe r tha n bein g mastered by it ; actio n is based on thought . Crucial to thi s concept is th e tensio n between th e welfaris t concern for thos e in nee d and th e judicia l requiremen t to monito r and intervene when ther e ar e assessments of risk . In th e social space, th e exercis e of balanc e between `care ’ and `control’ take s plac e in a legitimise d social space. Brigg s an d Canham (1999 ) suggest tha t infan t observatio n ha s th e capacit y to develop th e re ¯ ective skill s necessary fo r workin g in th e social space , and tha t by takin g an observationa l approac h to professional practic e situations, th e social worke r equip s himself or herself to work in thi s way . In particula r they discuss John s (1995 ) work wit h a chil d protectio n cas e as illustratin g thi s proces s in action . Face d wit h a case wit h larg e number of referrals , a long histor y of dif® culties an d a larg e professional network involve d in th e case, Johns was abl e to mak e sense of th e case throug h connecting th e inner lac k of protectedness in th e mother wit h th e concerns in th e lega l domain about risk . The n she make s a simila r connection between thes e factor s and th e qualitie s in th e relationshi p wit h herself. Thes e formulation s gro w fro m he r takin g an observationa l stanc e wit h th e family , an d makin g detaile d observation s of th e way the y relat e to eac h othe r an d to her . In a simila r vein , othe r writer s sugges t tha t an observationa l approac h enable s engagemen t wit h speci® c area s of social polic y in a meaning -

fu l and purposeful way . In th e social spac e ther e is th e capacit y to consider uncertainty, ambiguity , complexit y an d


multipl e meaning. It is derive d fro m th e idea Ðprobabl y best linke d wit h Bion ’ s (1967 ) theor y of thinking Ðof th e developmen t of mental space through reveri e an d thinkin g about emotional experiences, deploye d in a social ® eld. It als o ha s a `famil y resemblance’ to Britton ’ s (1989 , 1998 ) idea of th e `thir d position ’ or `triangula r space ’ , especiall y in th e sense tha t it functions throug h th e bringin g together of intellectua l (legal , social policy , theoretica l understanding) wit h emotions an d emotiona l experiences and permit s a connectiveness between thes e tw o arenas . I shal l develop thi s connection late r in th e discussion. It appear s to me tha t `social space’ is a large r categor y (o r `container’ ) tha n re ¯ ectiv e practice , an d includes re ¯ ectiv e practic e withi n th e tas k of addressing issues of (psycho)social concern. It is inclusive als o of recen t developments in social policy, payin g attentio n to lega l requirements . In thi s way , th e notion of `re ¯ ectiv e practice ’ can be though t of as a constituent par t of th e concept of `social space’ , an d to be consistent wit h th e kin d of operation Ðreverie , thinking, connecting though t and feeling Ðtha t ar e essential to bot h ideas . Followin g th e connections mad e between infant observatio n an d re ¯ ective practic e an d social space , it is importan t now to consider in mor e detail way s in which infan t observatio n ca n contribute to th e developmen t of a conceptio n of social work whic h is re ¯ ective an d integrate s `care ’ an d `control’ . Though th e relationshi p between infan t observatio n an d practic e ar e complex, for th e purposes of thi s discussion I shal l concentrate on tw o features , namely, reveri e and role re ¯ exivity .


First , it is importan t to state that infant observation Ðon th e Tavistoc k model as it is no w calle d (Reid , 1997) Ðmeans rathe r mor e tha n `observation ’ . Holli s in her classic work (1964 ) commente d that th e social worke r should ® rs t ope n her eyes to see, then close her eyes to think . Bot h thes e processes ar e essential to th e concept of `observation ’ (and of cours e indicat e tha t `re ¯ ectiv e practice ’ is no t a new idea!). Th e twi n processes of seein g the n thinkin g encapsulates a re ¯ ectiv e process, an d this is developed in th e infant observatio n approach . `Seeing’ is developed throug h th e observer ’ s activitie s of observin g an d the n recordin g in detai l an account which is not theoretica l bu t descriptive , includin g th e attemp t to describ e emotiona l experiences. Thinkin g take s plac e in th e seminar discussion which follow s observation , in which th e content of th e observationa l repor t is discussed bot h in term s of th e emotiona l meanin g of th e observatio n an d way s in whic h theoretica l formula - tion s ma y be tentativel y applied . Th e process of `seein g an d thinking ’ is als o conceptualised as a process of emotiona l attentivenes s where th e observer mirror s th e mother ’ s reveri e for he r infant. Bion ’ s ide a of reveri e (1962 ) is tha t it consists of a state of min d in th e othe r (or caregiver ) in which she allow s th e baby ’ s experiences to enter her mind , so tha t she ca n thin k about and gathe r a sense of th e meanin g of thes e infantil e communications. These ar e then used to formulate , consciously and unconsciously, responses to th e infant’ s communication s and needs. Thi s is why I thin k tha t infant observatio n provide s th e most distinctiv e form of learning . Th e seminar grou p perform s th e sam e functio n of reveri e fo r th e observer . Th e observe r therefor e gain s a model of providin g and receivin g attentiveness. Thi s ma y be experience d as bene® cial , bene® cent or somewhat persecutory, depending on th e circumstances, th e qualit y of interaction s an d th e emotionalit y under discussion and observation .

Role re ¯ exivit y

In thinkin g abou t these issues I hav e in min d th e kin d of learnin g tha t take s plac e on th e Tavistock / Universit y of Eas t London MA in Advanced Socia l Work and other Tavistoc k


social work courses. Ther e ar e tw o central mode s of learnin g re ¯ ectiv e practice ; these ar e work discussion and observation . Fo r both of these, th e proces s involve s th e combinatio n of observatio n an d seminar discussion, tha t is , seeing and thinking. Fo r both , learnin g concen- trate s on a number of interrelate d learnin g objectives , including:

· thinkin g abou t th e emotiona l impac t of th e observatio n on th e observer Ð or work on th e worker

· developin g th e capacit y to tak e in , observe in detail, in whic h emotionalit y is aliv e an d par t of th e observationa l proces s

· becomin g abl e to separat e observin g an d theorising , an d thu s becomin g activel y involve d in a process of `seeing’ and `thinking ’

· becomin g used to th e idea tha t sequences of behaviou r and interactio n ca n mak e sense an d hav e emotional , intrapsychi c an d interpersonal meanin g

· usin g consecutive or repeated observation s to for m tentativ e hypothese s abou t th e qualitie s of relationships , rathe r than jumpin g to prematur e ® xe d conclusions; seein g therefore th e capacit y fo r development and chang e withi n th e pattern s of relatin g tha t ar e observed

· thinkin g abou t observation s withi n a matri x of internal , interpersonal an d externa l factors ; relating , fo r example , issues of difference to th e patter n of relationship ; thinkin g abou t relationship s in term s of powe r and authority .

Ther e is on e majo r differenc e between observatio n an d work discussion, an d that is th e rol e of th e observer . In work discussion th e rol e is th e professional role ; in observatio n it is tha t of th e trainee / observer withou t thi s professional role . In genera l term s there is an expectatio n of progressio n fro m observatio n to direct work, in which th e opportunit y to observe without havin g professional responsibilit y prepare s th e way fo r takin g up professional role s wit h a chil d or in a famil y situatio n (se e Youell , 1999) . However, in practice , this often works th e othe r way round ; that worker s come to observatio n afte r considerable experienc e of pro - fessional practice .

Th e re ¯ ective valu e of without-professional-role experience.

Th e experienc e of teaching infant observatio n to social worker s is tha t ther e is a genera l an d pervasiv e reluctanc e to drop th e professional role . At th e star t of an observatio n a social worker is often incline d to be `truthful’ an d tel l th e famil y that he / she is a social worker . It is dif® cult to persuade this experienced worker but new infan t observe r tha t this is no t a goo d idea, and not reall y recommended. Socia l worker s who are beginnin g infan t observatio n do, as a rule , insis t on stayin g in role . Thi s is partl y du e to anxiet y stirre d up by th e newness of th e observationa l experience , bu t als o becaus e I thin k the y ar e anxiou s about bein g aske d to step ou t of role . In thi s sense, th e `competence’ -developed social workers, th e non-re ¯ ectiv e practitioner s become s symbolicall y equate d (Segal , 1957 ) wit h th e professional rol e the y carry , an d thei r perception s of this role . Socia l worker s attemptin g to undertake infant observatio n becom e unabl e to tak e up as an `opportunity ’ wha t observatio n provides , namel y th e opportunit y fo r thinkin g abou t meanin g separat e fro m professional role activity . Not bein g in professional role , Joh n Simmond s suggests, provide s th e learnin g opportunit y to thin k about ª th e combinatio n of physical , emotional and social events tha t giv e meanin g to human affairs º (1998 , p. 93) . Yet thi s experienc e ca n be a powerfu l underpinning of professional practice , even though th e learnin g involve d ma y be exactin g emotionall y an d mentally . To illustrat e this , I wis h to giv e an exampl e of a student, a particularl y sensitive an d committe d student, developin g a


sense of social an d emotiona l meanin g throug h th e experience of not bein g in role . Th e observatio n tha t she undertook was of a Nigeria n family , an d sh e observed th e second bab y in thi s family . Cross-cultural observation s ar e beginnin g to hav e a powerful impac t on th e understanding of antidiscriminator y practice . Tanne r (1999 ) discusses th e development of sensitivit y to issues of difference in th e re ¯ ectiv e accounts produce d by students on th e Goldsmiths Colleg e Diplom a in Socia l Wor k programme . In thi s observation , on a post-qual- ifyin g training , th e MA in Advanced Socia l Wor k at th e Tavistoc k Clinic , th e student, an experienced an d quali® ed practitioner , is ver y awar e fro m th e beginnin g of th e sense of exposure she ha s in her role of observer . Sh e writes:

I starte d th e observatio n wit h a variet y of feelings : a sense of privileg e (no t to say

relief ) tha t I had foun d a famil y willin g to be observed; an d a vivi d awarenes s of my

ow n whiteness as well as social / clas s differences wit h this blac k famil y wit h neithe r my professional rol e nor th e basis of an establishe d friendship to dra w on . Ther e was

a questio n for me about how fre e th e mother migh t hav e been to mak e objection s

abou t th e observation . ¼ My feelings abou t thi s externa l context playe d a part in my reluctanc e to attribut e meanin g to wha t I observe d in th e earl y observations. My report s of th e ® rs t observation s re ¯ ect this tentativenes s as well as my sense of bein g an outsider an d no t therefore `quali® ed’ to nam e feelings . ¼ I fel t thi s mos t palpabl y on occasions when mother kept me waitin g at th e door or lef t me to see my own way out.

Th e descriptio n in thi s account of th e impac t of difference, especiall y in th e inhibitio n of th e observe r to engag e he r own capacitie s to mak e sense of emotiona l experiences, echoes th e way Lennox Thoma s (1992 ) discusses how consciousness of differenc e prevents empathi c communicatio n in psychotherapy . Wit h th e ai d of th e thinkin g tha t took plac e in th e seminar group , thi s observer was abl e to see how depressed and trouble d thi s mothe r was . Sh e (th e observer) was abl e to respon d appropriatel y in th e observer role , listening to th e mother wit h friendl y receptivit y an d tryin g withi n herself to proces s th e experience. At on e poin t th e observation s seemed to be comin g to a prematur e en d as th e mothe r was not at hom e at th e tim e th e observation s ha d bee n agreed . Th e observer fel t ver y rejected, bu t unabl e to tak e hol d in herself of an appropriat e authorit y to thin k abou t wha t ma y be happening . When th e mother `forgot ’ to be presen t for observation s th e student record s how th e seminar grou p helpe d he r thin k abou t how to respond. Whe n th e student could maintai n a sense of th e importanc e of th e observation s (fo r her) she was able to writ e to th e mothe r and th e observation s continued. Later , towards th e en d of th e series of observation s whe n th e bab y was 11 months , th e observe r recorde d this :

Mothe r cam e in wit h food . She gav e me a plateful . Ther e was no questio n of

whethe r I wanted it or not. She ha d a plat e of th e sam e food too . It was deliciou s but I fel t as though I was bein g stuffed an d th e effect numbe d me. Sh e tol d me that

th e childre n at e earlie r and I wondered how she ® tted tha t in . Mother sai d that

Mari a [th e baby ] was tryin g to wal k unaide d an d that she would not drink . She added tha t Mari a would de ® nitel y no t tak e water , but would sometimes tak e juice and was al l righ t abou t milk .

Th e observer comments:

Placin g a dish of food unannounced in front of me seemed to signa l tha t I was no w recognise d as someone who migh t be abl e to tak e in , digest and appreciat e


somethin g fro m her . My experience of being forc e fe d ma y be linke d wit h th e proble m mother report s of Mari a no t drinking . Th e endin g of th e observatio n is dif® cult. Mother resort s to being asleep in th e bedroom where she seems to be spending long period s of time . I do not ge t to se e her to say goodbye . Mari a leak s all ove r th e plac e wit h diarrhoe a an d comes to me for th e ® rs t tim e wit h arm s raise d to be lifte d up. I hol d he r and ® nd mysel f both move d and disturbed.

Th e observe r ha s move d int o th e famil y and encounters an emotionall y powerful situation , in which sh e is involved . Th e focus on endingÐ whic h appears unbearable fo r th e mother , illustrate s th e proble m of relationship-base d work; it is painfu l and exacting, and th e observe r mus t leav e these observation s wit h a sense of worry and concern abou t thi s family . Th e absenc e of professional role Ð observin g without th e `shelter’ of professional rol e lead s initiall y to anxiet y about differenc e and late r to exposure to complicate d relationships .

Reverie plu s role re ¯ exivit y

Th e proble m fo r th e observe r in th e example s I hav e give n is tha t th e locus of pai n shift s fro m bein g solel y wit h th e famil y to being wit h th e famil y an d observer. Beginnin g fro m a standpoint of dominatio n by an awarenes s of difference, empathi c interaction s and transac- tion s whic h rel y on similarity or identi® catio n ar e inhibited . Meanin g makin g is not possibl e without thi s `triangula r space’ . In `Subjectivity , objectivity , triangula r space’ , Britto n de- scribe s th e features of triangula r space. He writes :

If th e lin k between th e parent s perceive d in lov e an d hat e ca n be tolerate d in th e child ’ s min d it provide s th e child wit h a prototyp e fo r an object relationship of a third kin d in which he or she is a witness an d not a participant . A thir d positio n then comes int o existence fro m whic h objec t relationship s ca n be observed. Give n thi s we ca n als o envisage being observed. This provide s us wit h a capacit y for seein g ourselve s in interactio n wit h other s and for entertainin g another poin t of vie w whils t retainin g ou r ownÐ for observin g ourselves while bein g ourselves . I cal l th e mental freedo m provide d by thi s proces s triangular space .

Here , I am put in min d of a recent consultativ e experience wit h team s of social workers , whic h demonstrated to me tha t th e proble m for social worker s was not of recognisin g differenceÐthis was alway s to th e for e an d at time s strongl y described, but, rather , of facin g th e painfulnes s tha t comes fro m identi® cation . Fo r example , one worke r told me tha t whe n sh e recently had a baby , sh e found tha t th e client sh e had jus t bee n discussing, and who m she foun d ver y dif® cult and intrusive , was als o on th e maternit y ward . Thi s doe s seem an objectively dif® cult situation, bu t othe r worker s in th e tea m bega n to speak of client s (usuall y parents) the y would never be like , an d client s whose action s felt completely `foreign ’ Ð a word whic h was used in these discussionsÐto th e workers ’ view s of themselve s an d others. Thes e worker s were unable to feel they could interven e effectively in thei r case s because th e absenc e of a sense of similarit y mean t tha t th e way s in whic h they worke d an d th e objectives the y formulate d repeated th e proble m th e clients had Ðtha t thei r ow n familie s lacke d or were inhibite d in understanding towards them . Th e social worker s di d no t hav e th e mean s to offe r reverie , becaus e they needed to kee p at a distance , idea s tha t they and thei r clients migh t be similar . Th e fac t that , in th e exampl e of th e worker who was havin g a baby , the y were both mother s at th e sam e tim e only serves to increas e a sense of iron y about similarity . Socia l worker s operatin g withi n a legalisti c paradigm Ð wha t Parto n calls th e ª lega l gaze º (Parton ,


1998) Ðcannot offer reverie . Th e containment provide d is `¯ at ’ or at time s `convex’ rathe r tha n `concave ’ (receptive) . An attentiv e observer, willin g to tak e in an d tr y to understand, throug h reverie , th e emotional meanin g in parent ± infant relationship s soo n begin s to feel a pressure to ful® l particula r expectations . Th e more deprive d and disturbed th e famil y situation, th e stronge r is this pressure. However it is als o experienced in familie s where functioning is `normal ’ (inverte d commas ) but whic h is drive n by th e anxietie s occasioned by development an d developmental processes. In my observations Ðout of professional role ÐI foun d tha t eve n th e applicatio n of attentio n ha d a powerfu l and multidimensiona l impac t on familie s where attentio n for infan t developmen t was at a premium , throug h parenta l preoccupations of al l kinds. Thes e experience s ca n be though t of as processes of transference an d countertransfer- ence, but, ove r time , th e observe r develops speci® c role s withi n observe d families . Thes e include emotiona l support for mothers an d father s (befriending , visiting , listening) ; babysit - ting ; playgrou p leader , assistant or auxiliar y parent . I hav e shown elsewhere (Briggs , 1997a ) tha t th e observe r ful® ls functions for infants , for exampl e wit h regar d to th e infant’ s developmental struggle s wit h absence an d separation , and wit h developing symbolism . Althoug h som e of these role s acquire sophisticatio n through th e applicatio n of psychoana - lyti c theorie s of absence, separation , symbolism , reverie and containing, the y als o hav e in common role s which ar e considered to be lo w status . These ar e part an d parce l of social workÐth e kind s of rol e tha t ar e attribute d to worker s by familie s in need, bu t whic h become subsumed under th e anxiou s responsibilitie s of makin g decisions. In fact these are ofte n parcelle d ou t to other professions. Th e dichotom y of `participant ’ an d `observer’ become s integrate d in th e responses of th e observe r based on th e observer ’ s capacit y for mental space. In th e exampl e of th e student’ s observatio n th e observer clearl y participatesÐ take s food , hold s th e baby, write s a letter , participate s in conversatio n wit h th e mother etc. These `activities ’ are based on thinking , an d ® t th e situatio n rathe r tha n bein g prescribed. In professional practic e (i.e . in role) , rol e re ¯ exivit y mean s noticin g a particula r way of relatin g tha t is expecte d an d is appropriate , alongside th e procedural / legalisti c requirements . Thus , in wha t I still feel is th e best exampl e of this genre Kare n John s (1995 ) hold s in her min d th e anxietie s of child protectio n concerns, `does’ bab y observatio n in orde r to see all the famil y member s an d their pattern s of relating , an d notes tha t she is invite d to tak e up some activ e role s wit h children . Thi s she think s of as `auxiliar y parenting ’ usin g th e term I develope d fro m infan t observations . In her min d was the n a dialogu e between th e require - ments of her rol e (primar y task ) and th e relationship s developing wit h th e paren t and he r children , fro m whic h th e latte r bega n to infor m th e formerÐ with , eventually , signi ® cant bene® cia l results. More writte n accounts of thi s kin d of work ar e needed.


In summar y I hav e suggested that infan t observatio n ha s a signi ® cant part to pla y in th e developmen t of re ¯ ectiv e practice . I believ e tha t th e aren a for thi s developmen t ma y be a contributio n to th e developmen t of `social space ’ , which is de ® ne d as a triangula r relationship in which intellec t an d emotio n ar e in conjunction wit h each other , an d decision-makin g responsibilit y ha s to be considered alongsid e an d informe d by th e understanding tha t emanate s fro m detaile d observation , undertaken wit h reverie . I hav e explore d in particula r th e idea tha t observatio n provide s a basis fo r th e development and applicatio n of `mental space ’ in th e observer ’ s reverie . I sugges t tha t thi s in tur n lead s to th e development of rol e re ¯ exivity , an d tha t th e kinds Ðor categories Ðof role s tha t develop


fro m an observationa l perspectiv e ca n develop a dialogu e wit h th e mor e legalistic , decision - makin g role s th e social worke r carries . Throug h thi s process, triangula r (social ) space is created , and link s between care an d control ar e restored.


I am gratefu l to Sall y Martin of th e MA in Advanced Socia l Wor k for her assistance.


1 An earlier version of thi s article wa s presented as th e GAPS annua l lecture, Jun e 1999 . 2 Th e contribution s by Trowell, Hindl e an d Easton , Bridg e an d Mac k come from a volume of th e International Journa l of Infan t Observation (an d it s applications ) whic h I ha d the privileg e of co-editing wit h Hamis h Canha m (Brigg s & Canham , 1999). Thi s gatherin g of articles, an d th e discussions at a subsequen t conferenceÐ’ Seeing an d Thinking ’ , hel d at the Tavistoc k Clini c in Januar y 1999Ðpla y a signi ® cant role in persuadin g me tha t th e infan t observatio n metho d ha s signi ® cant potentia l for developin g social work practice, perhaps ove r an d beyon d current commo n assumptions .


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