As a new Research and Development Manager at Research in Practice I’m currently immersing myself in what research and evidence is out there to support and improve social work practice.
Whilst I’ve been reviewing what exists in relation to topics such as ‘transitions’ and ‘supervision’, evidence in other areas is notable mainly by its absence. Evidence relating to things perhaps less tangible or easy to define and capture, such as ‘kindness’ and the difference it can make, or how it might be useful in adult social care.
On the subject of definitions, the OED describes kindness as:
‘The quality of being friendly, generous and considerate.’
Despite the lack of ‘hard’ evidence to support the value of kindness in adult social care, there appears to be an increasing focus on the powerful potential of kindness in building relationships, supporting wellbeing, and as a general all-round ‘good thing’ for society as a whole. September also marks the launch of The Kindness Movement by the national Campaign to End Loneliness, who has stated that: ‘at a time when divisions in society seem to run deeper than ever, we are shaping the solution: an outbreak of kindness'.
It seems therefore, a good time to think about the issue. And from what I’ve read in the media, personal and professional experiences indicate that kindness can have a big impact in health and social care:
‘Resilience is built in many ways, and feeling special by receiving kindness is one of them.’ (Molloy, Community Care, 2015)
‘[It was not] just the quantity of care that mattered but its regularly and rhythm, and the skill and humanity with which it was carried out.’ (Ferguson, The Guardian, 2007).
‘[Kindness and trust are] core, central, vital. Not just woolly soft and cuddly aspirations – they have a profound effect on outcomes.’ (Haslam, NICE, 2015)
There is some research into this area, although there’s no conclusive evidence. The Joseph Rowntree Liveable Lives Study interviewed 44 people living 3 distinct areas of Glasgow who recorded logs of instances of everyday help and support. The findings show that the impact of everyday acts of kindness are influenced by the sense of community where people live, and the importance of giving as well as receiving kindness. The study summarises that ‘while it may not be possible to legislate for “kindness”, it may be possible to avoid damaging – and even to foster and extend – the conditions in which it occurs’. (Anderson S, Brownlie J, Milne E J, May 2015)
A recent report from the Zoe Ferguson at the Carnegie Trust states that kindness is at the very heart of our wellbeing. The research tested what could be done to encourage kinder communities by ‘exploring ideas around the importance of places and opportunities to connect, and the intrinsic values underpinning our interactions and relationships’. It highlights powerful examples of where kindness and everyday relationships can affect change and support the wellbeing of individuals and communities, but also that there are ‘major factors that get in the way of engaging and encouraging kindness both in individuals and organisations’.
By definition kindness is different from the interpersonal skills listed in job descriptions for social care staff (eg, communication) or intrapersonal skills (eg, self-awareness). Regulatory frameworks or standards such as the Knowledge and Skills Statement, Professional Capabilities Framework, HCPC Standards of Proficiency for Social Work, and CQC Quality Matters all talk about compassion (’sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others’) and empathy (’the ability to understand and share the feelings of another’). But kindness isn’t covered.
I believe that kindness is part of social work’s history and future. Our regulatory frameworks and standards are fundamentally important in the practice of quality consistent services and outcomes, but the simple ‘quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate’ is important too. Everyone knows from personal experience – which is a kind of evidence too – the power of a smile or hug, or a kind word. As communities become more central to social care and fundamental to social work practice, exchanges of kindness between people who use services, communities, and professionals is, if not entirely measurable (yet), something that should not be underestimated.