The strategic leadership of complex practice: opportunities and challenges

Journal article citation:
Child Abuse Review, 19(5), September 2010, pp.312-329.

Despite much rhetoric and investment in partnership working as a panacea for complex problems, relatively little is known about how strategic partnerships, such as Local Safeguarding Children Boards, actually engage with and improve front line practice and outcomes. Recent high profile cases in the UK have exposed the dangers of reliance on numerical performance data. Three issues are explored: the nature and impact of current context on knowledge about child protection; the impact of this on the capacity of partnerships, agencies and practitioners to learn from and improve practice; and specific strategies to develop more collective forms of knowing and learning in order to improve both understanding and capacity to learn from practice. The drivers for, and impact of, regulatory, media and political pressures on front-line practice and partnership behaviour are discussed in the context of the rise of organisational risk management and ‘rule-based’ responses. It is suggested that these are exacerbated by the volume of negative data about child protection systems which results in contagious ‘attention cascades’ leading to over-simplification of complex issues and rushed quick-fix solutions. The result, compliance-based responses designed to avoid ‘blame’, make it difficult to learn from, for example, serious case reviews and move on from an avoidance of future culpability to progressive improvement of knowledge, skills and practice. Improvements in practice will require strategic partnerships to engage with front-line staff to access practice narratives not just numbers. This calls for collective forms of knowing and reflecting and the paper concludes with examples.

Subject terms:
joint working, leadership, performance management, child protection;
United Kingdom
Journal home page
ISSN online:
ISSN print:

Key to icons

  • Free resource Free resource
  • Journal article Journal article
  • Book Book
  • Digital media Digital media
  • Journal Journal

Give us your feedback

Social Care Online continues to be developed in response to user feedback.

Contact us with your comments and for any problems using the website.

Sign up/login for more

Register/login to use standard search filters, access resource links, advanced search and email alerts