Engaging with children and young people
Engaging with children and young people

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2.1 Talking on their own terms

An important place to start when engaging with children and young people, most particularly those who are vulnerable, is to treat them individually and to speak to them on their own terms.

A UK-wide study of social workers published in 2017 (Winter et al., 2017) found that while engaging with children and young people might be difficult those difficulties should not be overstated. A crucial step for anyone working with children and young people is to go beyond standardised frameworks and recognise that each child has individual needs and comes from their own specific context with particular challenges. By taking this step, relationships and conversations with children and young people can be improved dramatically.

As Gillian Ruch, professor of social work at the University of Sussex and one of the lead researchers of the project asserts:

The study underlined that it was not the application of a particular tool or method that was important, but the subtleties of relationships, and that these were unique to each child and family. This might not be a popular message for some, as it wasn’t about targets or tick boxes to satisfy the government or Ofsted. Instead, it was about finding out about the dynamics for every child, and working on a case‑ by-case basis.

(Lepkowska, 2017)

A key aspect of the dynamics referred to is understanding the young person’s particular context and being genuine and authentic in interactions. This same research made the very clear point that ‘far from children being passive receivers of social worker messages, they, like adults, can detect genuineness, in terms of interest in, and value attributed to, hearing their feelings, views and thoughts.’ (Winter et al., 2017, pp.1441-1442).

Activity 3 Police engagement with children and young people

Timing: Allow 10 minutes

Even though this research looked at the interactions between social workers and young people in particular, to what extent do you think it would also apply to police officers and staff undertaking their day-to-day job?

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While those involved in policing may often engage with children and young people in different circumstances to others, some of the same basic principles apply. The most important of these is the recognition that each child has individual needs and comes from their own specific context with particular challenges. This should always be taken into consideration when engaging with children and young people.

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