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Professional Curiosity

Professional curiosity has been a recurring theme in our Childrens and Adult’s Case Reviews over recent years and reflected Nationally.  It has long been recognised as an important concept in Social Care Services but is equally relevant to work within all agencies who provide services to children and adults.

Professionals will often meet a child or adult with care and support needs or their family when the they are vulnerable to harm.  These interactions present crucial opportunities for protection.  Responding to these opportunities requires the ability to recognise (or see the signs of) vulnerabilities and potential or actual risks of harm, maintaining an open stance of professional curiosity (or enquiring deeper), and understanding one’s own responsibility and knowing how to take action.

Professional curiosity is the capacity and communication skill to explore and understand what is happening within a family rather than making assumptions or accepting things at face value.


Group Supervision and Reflective Practice Groups can be even more effective in promoting curiosity and safe uncertainty, as practitioners can use these spaces to think about their own judgements and observations of a child, adult or family.  It allows teams to learn from one another’s experiences, and the issues considered in one family may have echoes in other workloads.

Tips for practice:

  • Don’t take things at face value
  • Play ‘devil’s advocate’
  • Present alternative hypotheses
  • Present families from the child, adult’s or another family member’s perspective
  • Talk to families about supervision – ‘I talked about how to help you with my team last week and they thought that…’

It is important that professionals are sensitive to differing family patterns and lifestyles and to child rearing and caring patterns that vary across different racial, ethnic and cultural groups.  At the same time, they must be clear that abuse cannot be condoned for religious or cultural reasons.

All professionals working with children, adults or families whose faith, culture, nationality and possibly recent history differs significantly from that of the majority culture, must be professionally curious and take personal responsibility for informing their work with sufficient knowledge (or seeking advice) on the particular culture and / or faith by which the child and family lives their daily life.

Professionals should be curious about situations or information arising in the course of their work, allowing the child, adult or family to give their account as well as researching such things by discussion with other professionals, or by researching the evidence base.  Examples of this may be regarding attitudes towards, and acceptance of, services e.g. health; dietary choices; accepting care, education provision or school attendance.

In some instances, reluctance to access support stems from a desire to keep family life private.  In many communities. There may be a poor view of support services arising from initial contact through the immigration system, and, for some communities – particularly those with insecure immigration status – an instinctive distrust of the state arising from experiences in their country of origin.

Professionals must take personal responsibility for utilising specialist services’ knowledge.  Knowing about and using services available locally to provide relevant cultural and faith related input to prevention, support and rehabilitation services for the individual (and their family) will support practice.

Safeguarding is everyone’s responsibility, and where professionals are concerned, each agency has a role to play in safeguarding and protecting children and adults from harm.

Workers who have most contact with the individual are in a good position to recognise when the risks to the person are escalating. However, there can be a tendency to defer to the opinion of a ‘higher status’ professional who has limited contact with the person but who views the risk as less significant. Be confident in your own judgement and always outline your observations and concerns to other professionals, be courageous and challenge their opinion of risk if it varies from your own. Escalate ongoing concerns through your manager and if required, use the DSPP Professional Challenge and Resolution Policy.

The following factors highlight the need for all of us to strive to improve professional curiosity and professional courage:

  • The views and feelings of children and adults with care and support needs are actually very difficult to ascertain but achieving this is an essential part of person-centred safeguarding
  • Professionals need to listen to other adults as well as parents, who can speak on behalf of the individual and who may have important information to contribute
  • Parents and carers can prevent professionals from seeing and listening to the individual, particularly on their own
  • Professionals can be misled with stories we want to believe are true, particularly if overly optimistic about what change a family can make
  • Effective multi agency work needs to be coordinated and identifying which professional can build a relationship with the family is important – evidence indicates that a partnership style relationship can result in a greater degree of trust and a more open family response
  • Challenging parents, carers (and colleagues) requires expertise, confidence, time and a considerable amount of emotional energy
  • Thinking the unthinkable and not relying on self-reporting without challenge or searching for corroborative evidence and triangulating information


This Video created by Siobhan Maclean includes an introduction where Siobhan and Wendy Roberts talk about the importance of professional curiosity. The animation which follows then provides a new way of looking more deeply at what professional curiosity means. It develops on from the idea that professional curiosity is about looking beyond the face value of information.