3.1 Working with children and families
For social workers working with children and families, a vital part of the mindset is having a focus on the child. Nearly all work with children rightly also means working with adults in their family; there is, however, a long history of concern that adult conversations can dominate, and adult views and opinions can silence those of children. You will revisit in more detail later why this might happen, but first you will spend some time focusing on children. An important underpinning principle of the need to listen to children, not just in the social work arena but generally in society, is the recognition that children have rights.
The UNCRC includes 54 articles that set out fundamental rights for children and how governments should ensure that these rights are available to all. These include a child’s right to protection from harm, access to education, right to a family life and the right to express an opinion and be listened to. At an individual level, taking on the messages of the UNCRC can have major implications for all practitioners in their work − such as the extent to which children are enabled to have a say in decisions that affect their lives (e.g. the design of services). This can be challenging – for example, how much say should children have in how a school is run or how a social work assessment and intervention should proceed?
While the UNCRC defines a child as any person under the age of 18, the overarching principle of the Convention deems that this is not the earliest a child's views should be heard. Consequently, the age at which children can make decisions for themselves may be significantly lower than 18. The boundary between child and adult in certain aspects of the law is not always distinct – is it age or understanding that is most significant? An example of this is shown in the next section.