Across the Tasman: A reflective practice journey
Practice Leader, Central Region, New Zealand Department of Corrections
Reflective Practice Leader, Department for Correctional Services, South Australia
Paula started at Corrections in September 2005 as a probation officer and progressed to the senior probation officer role in 2010. In June 2011, Paula was selected for the newly formed position of practice leader and has continued in this role to date. Paula uses the models and frameworks that underpin reflective practice to enhance staff ability to learn from their experiences and thereby build their professional competence.
Gina joined the Department for Correctional Services (DCS), South Australia, in 2008 and has held a number of positions, including community corrections officer and senior case manager. In mid 2015, she joined Central Office to review DCS Enhanced Community Corrections service standards. Gina was recently appointed to the role of reflective practice Leader, the first such role in DCS South Australia.
In August 2016, the State Government of Australia unveiled a strategy to improve community safety and address re-offending – Reducing Re-offending 10% by 2020. This article explains how reflective practice supports DCS South Australia’s vision for a safer community by protecting the public and reducing re-offending.
Reflective practice is the process of thinking about our experiences and enhancing practice based upon this reflection. Research shows that reflective practice is central to learning as it allows professionals to develop a critical understanding of their own practice, along with developing the necessary skills, knowledge and methods to achieve the best outcomes for their clients (Maclean, n.d.).
In New Zealand, sentence management is conducted by probation officers in the community, and case managers in the prison environment. Their daily interactions are “packed” with exposure to different cases and decision making requirements, all of which provide learning experiences. However, the benefits of the learnt experiences are lost if we do not take the time to “unpack” them through reflection. Reflective practice sessions provide an avenue for practitioners to come together and discuss certain aspects of a case or practice topic at the micro level. This discussion should draw on individual and collective experiences and feelings about practice and allow practitioners to grow their understanding and application of practice (Vuorre, 2012).
It’s crucial to clearly communicate the reasons for reflective practice, and ensure everyone involved agrees to those reasons. Trust, transparency and safety are vital, and it is imperative that reflective practice is not intertwined with disciplinary or performance management processes. Good reflection requires a questioning approach which takes into account cultural contact and explores a range of alternatives and approaches. There should be a structure, but no pre-determined outcome (Vuorre, 2012).
Staff are the focus of reflective practice and are responsible for their own practice development. Reflective practice support is provided through group and individual reflective practice sessions and through mentoring, coaching and “in the moment” assistance by practice leaders.
Why South Australia implemented reflective practice
In 2016, the Department for Correctional Services (DCS) appointed the reflective practice leader to create and implement a Community Corrections Statewide Reflective Practice Framework. The DCS wanted to strengthen the services available to staff, so the position was responsible for facilitating clinical support and supervision to staff to promote evidence based case management and therapeutic services.
The Reflective Practice Framework creates a collaborative and challenging approach to managing those on sentence. It empowers staff to make professional decisions, builds confidence, and assists with case analysis and planning.
The New Zealand contribution
The New Zealand Department of Corrections recognised the importance of reflective practice when introducing it in 2012, following a pilot. The main driver of reflective practice was the newly established role of the practice leader. The practice leader was solely focused on developing, leading and supporting professional practice.
New Zealand’s reflective practice framework is based on the Gibbs model of reflective practice. This cyclical model is comprehensive and easy to apply in a correctional setting.
In August 2015, DCS executives visited the New Zealand Department of Corrections to exchange practice expertise and knowledge. New Zealand shared their reflective practice Leadership Framework and Guidance. This was tremendously valuable in assisting with the research and development of South Australia’s Reflective Practice Framework. A strong link has been developed between New Zealand and South Australia and further collaboration and shared learning will continue.
The South Australian framework has also been based on the Gibbs model of reflective practice. It was recognised that support from an experienced New Zealand practice leader would benefit the introduction of reflective practice in South Australia. In August 2017, Paula Frawley was invited to be a guest speaker and facilitator at the DCS inaugural reflective practice workshop held in South Australia. The workshop introduced reflective practice concepts to managers who would be co-delivering the reflective practice sessions with their practice leader Gina Roberts. The initial workshop was followed by a reflective practice roadshow to all 16 Community Corrections Centres in South Australia. Throughout October 2017, around 140 staff attended these sessions.
The roadshow included:
- an interactive session with Paula, enabling DCS staff to hear about the journey of implementing and continuing to develop reflective practice in a corrections environment
- a discussion of any staff concerns and how these could be mitigated
- a video recording of a team reflective practice session in action.
Similarities and differences between South Australia and New Zealand
Similarities in group reflective practice sessions
The process and concepts underpinning group reflective practice sessions are very similar because the issues that face our staff and the people we work with are universal. Staff identify their individual learning and practice needs and how best these can be met. Reflective practice sessions are led by staff, with support and guidance from reflective practice leaders. Groups in both organisations have identified the importance of establishing a strong team kawa reinforcing the essential principles of trust and respect. This creates a safe space, so staff feel respected and can get the most benefit from every session. Finally, staff in both organisations show great commitment and enthusiasm to developing practice that improves outcomes for those in our care.
South Australia and New Zealand have significantly different staff numbers requiring different resourcing models for facilitating reflective practice. In New Zealand, the Department’s approximately 80 practice leaders support reflective practice delivery to 1,090 probation officers and 290 case managers on a fortnightly basis. In South Australia, reflective practice sessions are co-facilitated by Gina Roberts and the manager at each of the 16 Community Corrections Centres on a bi-monthly basis. Reflective practice is still developing within South Australia’s Corrections and they look forward to the potential growth within the reflective practice space (Roberts, 2017). An evaluation of the first 12 months of the implementation of the framework is underway, with a report due towards the end of 2018.
Reflective practice is central to learning as it allows probation professionals to understand and develop their own practice to achieve the best outcomes for their clients. The spirit of reflective practice does not change, whether a session is being delivered in New Zealand or South Australia.
Maclean, S (n.d.) The Social Work Pocket Guide to Reflective Practice.
Roberts, G (2017). ‘Reflective Practice Framework Report’, Department for Correctional Services, South Australia.
Vuorre, M (2012). ‘Community Probation Practice Leadership Framework Guide’, Department of Corrections, New Zealand.