Introducing social work: a starter kit
Introducing social work: a starter kit

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Introducing social work: a starter kit

8 Communicating with children

Communicating with children is a very important area in social work that must be undertaken with as much preparation as possible, to ensure that the attempts at discussion and sharing of information and feelings reflect fully the age, development, and the capacity of the child. Children’s responses may have all sorts and layers of expectations, partial understandings, and divided loyalties, and therefore considerable skill is required to enable a child to feel safe enough to share their thoughts and feelings accurately.

Activity 2 Working with children

Listen to this brief audio where Sophie, a social worker from Cornwall, talks about her work. In the audio you will hear that Sophie recognises that it takes time to understand a child’s view. Her experience is that direct work provides opportunities over time to gain perspective on the child’s account of their situation. Sophie makes an important point about the clear boundaries that are needed when building a relationship around direct work with a child or young person. Nevertheless, if a social worker negotiates and establishes these honestly and effectively, it is possible to develop an enhanced and meaningful professional relationship with a child.

Sophie explains that some sessions with children may be targeted, for example, around managing anger or life story work. This kind of approach can be directly therapeutic for the child, as well as potentially providing reliable information with which to form more realistic assessments of the needs of children and their families.

Download this audio clip.Audio player: Audio 1
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Transcript: Audio 1

SOPHIE AYERS
I think the first thing to say about direct work as a social worker is it’s my single most favourite activity and it’s the most pleasure that I get as a social worker – is to work with children. But I think it’s really important to realise that a face-to-face interaction with a child can be a really challenging thing, and you’ve got to go in there with a clear plan and a clear understanding that it takes time to understand a child’s view, and always be clear not to take those views at face value whilst listening to them at all times. Within Cornwall there’s a clear directive to be really taking into account the lived experience of a child within assessments, and I think a lot of social workers within Cornwall are extremely passionate about doing that – and, again, as a social worker in a longer term team, I work with children who are children in care or on a Child Protection Plan. So for children on a Child Protection Plan, I have to see them every fortnight at the very minimum; quite often I’ll do more than that because I’m constantly wanting to hear what’s going on for them. And, as within an assessment, it’s not a stagnant thing; it’s a constantly evolving risk assessment, so we need to be incorporating those child’s views every fortnight. So, the tactics that I would use can vary considerably depending on the child’s own individual needs, their age, and what they would like to happen as well. An example, which doesn’t sound particularly therapeutic, was last week I took two children to a play centre, and we went down some slides together and had lunch together, but within that I actually received quite a serious disclosure in the car, and that’s a relationship that I’ve developed over the last year within a child protection plan. So I think a key part of that is developing a really meaningful relationship with children in a very boundaried way, so we’re very clear right from the start of your work that what they tell you isn’t always confidential. I think it’s easy to go in and pretend that it’s a confidential little chat to make sure that they build a close relationship, but part of a responsible social work relationship with a child is to be honest from that starting point that sometimes, if things worry you, they will be talked about with other adults including their parents. A lot of my work as a social worker, in longer term work, is about doing targeted work when I’ve done an initial assessment that has indicated some areas of needs with children, and looking at what’s going to assist them. So that can be about an ongoing role in gaining further information about their wishes and feelings, but it can also be doing some direct work about looking at their anger, how they manage that. Some of the most significant work that I do, it’s on a par with therapeutic work, is looking at life story work for children who are about to be adopted, and using a series of tools and life story work to help them understand that process and understand this incredibly complicated process about living with a family that’s not their birth family, and how that’s come to pass. So, the scope of direct work with children within social work is extremely huge and disparate, and a real challenge, but it is really targeting that specific work for the individual needs of a child based on an assessment.
End transcript: Audio 1
Audio 1
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