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Professional Curiosity

What is professional curiosity and why is it important?

Professional curiosity is where a practitioner explores and proactively tries to understand what is happening within a family or for an individual, rather than making assumptions or taking a single source of information and accepting it at face value.

It means:

  • Testing out professional assumptions about different types of families
  • Considering information from different sources to gain a better understanding of family functioning which, in turn, helps to make predictions about what is likely to happen in the future
  • Seeing past the obvious
  • Questioning what is observed

It is a combination of looking, listening, asking direct questions, checking out and reflecting on ALL of the information received.

Professional curiosity is a recurring theme within safeguarding reviews, highlighting the need to fully understand a family’s situation. Therefore professional curiosity is important, as it enables a practitioner to have a holistic view and understanding of what is happening within a family and what life is like for an individual and use this information to fully assess potential risks.

How can practitioners be professionally curious?

Here are some considerations when seeking to be professionally curious:

  • As practitioners, you should not presume to know what is happening in the family home and should ask questions and seek clarity if you are not certain
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions of families, and do so in an open way, so they know that you are asking to ensure that children/Adults are safe, not to judge or criticise
  • Be open to the unexpected, and incorporate information that does not support your initial assumptions into your assessment of what life is like for an individual
  • Seek clarity, either from the family or other professionals
  • Be open to having your own assumptions, views and interpretations challenged, and be open to challenging others
  • Consider what you see as well as what you’re told. Are there any visual clues as to what life is like, or which don’t correlate with the information you already hold?
  • Use supervision as an opportunity to explore cases and exercise professional curiosity, for example by: playing ‘devil’s advocate’; presenting alternative hypotheses; and presenting cases from the child, young person, adult or another family member’s perspectives

What are potential barriers to professional curiosity?

Being professionally curious is not always easy. There may be barriers to this, including those from practitioners themselves such as:

  • Over optimism
  • Making assumptions
  • Lacking the confidence or assertiveness to ask sensitive questions
  • Unconscious bias

Barriers may also be presented by people we work with, such as not wishing to answer questions, questioning a practitioners’ intentions and what some organisations call disguised compliance. The Safeguarding Network summarises this as: focusing on one particular issue; being critical of professionals; failing to engage with services; and avoiding contact with professionals.

It is important to recognise any potential barriers and work with the family to overcome these. When barriers may be coming from an individual or family it is important to work restoratively with them, explaining why you are asking questions or seeking clarification so they understand it is to help support them and their family with regards to their welfare and safety.