Professional curiosity for practitioners

Look Further, Think Wider, See More

What is professional curiosity?

Professional curiosity is where a practitioner seeks to explore and understand what is happening in someone's life, rather than making assumptions or accepting what they are told at face value. It involves looking out for signs that things are not right and seeking out the evidence of what is really happening.

Sometimes practitioners can feel they are being intrusive or that they may be overstepping their role if they ask that extra question, if they consider alternative explanations, if they start contacting others to check out their concerns. This is not the case. Safeguarding is everyone's responsibility.

Professional curiosity is a core responsibility of all practitioners. Many people are unable, or feel unable, to speak up for themselves. Many people are relying on us to identify the signs, to uncover what is really happening in their life, and to provide them with help to be safe. This is why it is so important.

Useful practice models

The following simple model can be very effective in supporting professional curious practice, and identifying causes for concern:

Look, Listen, Ask, Checkout

As practitioners, ask yourself these questions to help you think in a professionally curious way:

a)  Look

  • Is there anything about what you see that makes you feel uneasy?
  • Could what you see be a sign or symptom of abuse, neglect or self-neglect?
  • Consider why someone is behaving a certain way; think broadly about what this might mean?
  • Does what you see match with what you are being told? Could there be an alternative explanation?
  • Be aware of people's responses to questions and read body language; are they seeming reluctant to answer the question, is something being held back? If so, why might that be?

b)  Listen

  • Does something not sound right?
  • Are you being told anything which needs further explanation?
  • Have you spoken to the person that you are concerned about? Are they free to give their views? Can you talk to them on their own?
  • Does what you hear, match with what you have seen? Could there be an alternative explanation?

c)  Ask

  • Are there questions you can ask, to explore what you have seen or been told?
  • Maintain an open mind - Try to avoid making assumptions, taking information at face value and jumping to conclusions.
  • Is your use of language, clear, accessible, understandable to the person you are talking to?

d) Check out

  • Treat what people say with 'respectful uncertainty'. This means take what people say seriously, but then look for other information that confirms or challenges what you have been told.
  • Be the first to check out your concerns, be proactive, don't wait for others to ask you. Can you build a picture of what is happening?
  • Are other professionals involved? Have other professionals seen or been told the same as you? Are there family members you could speak to?
  • Are others concerned? If so, what action has been taken so far?
  • Have you recorded your concerns? Have you discussed them with a manager?
  • Is there anything else which should or could be done by you or anyone else?
  • Refer to your organisation's policy and procedures
  • Consider the need to raise a safeguarding concern

Overcoming barriers to professional curiosity

It is widely recognised that there are many barriers to being professionally curious.  It is only by knowing and challenging these within ourselves and in our practice that we are often able look further, think wider and see more.

Try not to:  Make assumptions

What you should do instead:  Consider other explanations.  Look for the evidence

Try not to: Accept the first explanation, as the only possible explanation

What you should do instead:  Be open minded.  Act with 'respectful uncertainty'.  Look for information that confirms and challenges it.

Try not to: Be rigid about what you believe to be true

What you should do instead: Be open to new information. New information can come to light that offers an alternative view.

Try not to:  See an incident, and not the circumstances

What you should do instead:  Look for the whole picture; look for patterns, is this a one-off event – how do you know?

Try not to:  Take risk for granted: When we get so used to risk, we can see it as normal, and fail to act

What you should do instead:  Look at risk with a fresh pair of eyes. See it for what it is. Use supervision to re-evaluate your assessment

Try not to: Minimise risk because you have limited information

What you should do instead: Stay focused on risk. Limited information is common. It is not always possible to know for sure what has happened, but the concern for the person needs to remain.

Try not to: Be overly optimistic about a person's situation or the help that is being provided.

What you should do instead: Sometimes all the right things are said by paid and unpaid carers and services, but there is little or no evidence of change.  Consider if progress is really being made?  Are intended outcomes actually being achieved?

Try not to:  Focus on the problem and not the person

What you should do instead:  Always seek to understand the person behind the concern. This will help you to identify the best path forward.

Try not to:  Avoid difficult conversations

What you should do insteadHave courage, gain support, use supervision. Plan for difficult conversations, wherever possible. Read our Managing difficult conversations guidance.

A Professional Curiosity Power Point presentation has also been developed to support training which includes reference and links to reviews whereby professional curiosity was a key theme. This could also be used to support practice discussions and reflection in team meetings. Please email the LSAB Strategy Unit for a copy;