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Interviewing clients

6.1 Introduction

Welcome to this training module on interviewing clients. We are using the term ‘interview’ but think of it as a ‘conversation with a purpose’ rather than any formal process such as a job interview. As a volunteer you will meet and talk with many clients, all of whom will have different needs. Communicating effectively with them will ensure you can identify their requirements and support them effectively.

Learning outcomes

This module will describe good practice when meeting and interviewing clients. It will assist you in feeling more confident when you meet with clients.

In this module you will learn about:

  • How to welcome clients effectively
  • Active listening techniques
  • How to structure the session with your client
  • How to conclude the session.

This module is one of a number of training modules to help Support Through Court volunteers when supporting clients. The modules all use the same case study to explore the different aspects of supporting clients effectively. We will be referring to this example as we work though this module, so it may be helpful to remind yourself of the facts now. You may want to open this case study in a separate window (use Ctrl + click on the link) so you can refer back to it when needed. Find out more about the fictitious Johnson/Smith family  and their situation

During the module you may come across terminology which is unfamiliar to you. Some words are hyperlinked to the Glossary, so by hovering over the word you will be able to see its definition.

This module deals with some sensitive issues including descriptions of domestic abuse. These training modules are not compulsory, but they are recommended. If you do not feel comfortable to start the module, or if you are affected by the material, or feel you are unable to undergo the training, then Support Through Court can help you. Please speak to your Service Manager when you are next in the office.

If you need immediate support over the phone you can call:

National Domestic Violence Helpline – 0808 200 247

Give your opinion

How would you rate your understanding of Cafcass right now, before you start this module? Submit your answer.

6.2 Welcoming Clients

Described image

Establishing a positive welcome at the start of the session is important to ensure the client feels safe and is able to explain why they are seeking help. The first 5 minutes of a client interaction will set the tone for the remainder of the session.

Activity 1

Thinking about your own sessions with clients, or others you have witnessed in the office, what things can contribute to a positive welcome?

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Comment

There are many different things that can help a client feel welcomed at the start of the session. You may have thought about things that you say to the client, the way in which it is said, body language and the layout of the office. All of these elements are important. We will look at some of the most important below.

When clients come into the office for the first time, they are likely to be dealing with one of the most difficult events they have ever faced. Representing themselves in court proceedings is stressful and can be overwhelming. Their reaction to this will vary from client to client. Being aware the effect this is having on the client can help you understand their presentation and establish an environment which encourages them to seek and receive information and support.

Activity 2

Below is a list of things a volunteer could do when a client first comes in the office. Please highlight in green the ones which will encourage a positive welcome and help the client feel able to tell you why they have come. Highlight the ones that don't in red.

How to use the highlighter

Click on the colour you want to use and then drag your cursor over the text you want to highlight. The return arrow icon erases the single last highlighting you did. If you want to clear all of your highlighting use the Reset button. When you have completed all of your highlighting click on the Save button. To check your answers click on Reveal answer.

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It is important to give the client your full attention, make them feel welcome and explain what Support Through Court can help with before asking them to explain why they have come.

A good plan for welcoming clients is:

  • If not already with clients, stop chatting or eating, etc. If you need a break this is fine, arrange this with your Service Manager so that you are away from clients.
  • Pay full attention to the client, smile and make them feel welcome
  • Introduce yourself with your first name
  • Look out for any special needs or reactions to be aware of
  • Offer tea, coffee or water
  • Invite the client to sit down and ask them to complete the Support Through Court paperwork (Consent form and About You form), explaining the limits of the service by going through the consent form
  • Invite the client’s story with an open question.

Did you know?

An open question is one which requires the client to answer with a number of words and sentences (as opposed to a closed question which simply needs a one word answer such as ‘yes’ or ‘no’). You could simply ask: Why have you come to see us today?

6.3 Structuring your client interaction

Having a structure or plan for your interaction with your client will help you to stay focused, obtain the information you need and use your time effectively. The details of the plan will be different for each client, as each person will have a different reason for coming to seek help from Support Through Court, but the basic structure should be broadly similar.

Activity 3

What do you think the most important thing is when planning your client interaction?

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Comment

The most important thing is to find out from the client why they have come to see you and the outcome the client wants to achieve. Support Through Court is client focused and seeks to empower the clients to make decisions and choices, so your plan should reflect the client’s priorities and wishes. You may also have to manage the client’s expectations early in the session if we cannot do everything they want.

You can establish the client’s wishes at the start of the session by simply asking them why they have come and what they hope to achieve.

Activity 4

Here are four tips on how to structure a client interaction effectively, please put them into the order in which you would address each one in the session.

Using the following two lists, match each numbered item with the correct letter.

  1. Ask the client what they want to do today

  2. Agree 2-3 main tasks

  3. Set a time limit if needed

  4. Maintain focus – steer the client back to the agreed tasks if necessary

  • a.3

  • b.2

  • c.4

  • d.1

The correct answers are:
  • 1 = d
  • 2 = b
  • 3 = a
  • 4 = c

Turning to our case study involving the Johnson/Smith family, you may recall that Jazmin Johnson left Steve Smith following domestic abuse. Jazmin, along with their daughter Chloe and Jazmin’s son from a previous relationship, Jaden, moved into emergency accommodation. Following threats from Steve that he wanted to care for Chloe, Jazmin issued a child arrangement order application. Find out more about the Johnson/Smith family  and their situation.

Steve comes into the Support Through Court office on the morning of the First Hearing Dispute Resolution Appointment (FHDRA). He is angry that Jazmin has issued the application and says he wants to care for Chloe. He is unhappy that Jazmin has stopped him from seeing Chloe since they separated. He is also angry that Jazmin has said he was violent and controlling towards her and says it is not true. He has found out that the court has provided screens for this hearing, at Jazmin’s request, and feels he has been pre-judged. He wants to know what he can do about this. He is also worried about what will happen at the hearing and does not want the court to make the requested order – he wants them to order that Chloe live with him. It is 30 minutes before the FHDRA.

Activity 5

How would you structure this client interaction?

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Comment

Steve has mentioned lots of things and to deal with them all will take longer than the time you have available, due to the court hearing starting in 30 minutes. You will therefore need to agree with Steve 2 or 3 issues you will deal with now and provide information about how he can get advice and support on the others later. The list of issues will depend on Steve’s wishes, but the most urgent issues to address are probably:

  • Why the court has provided screens and that it is a neutral action. For further information go to the Special Measures training module)
  • What will happen in the FHDRA
  • How Steve can ask the court to make a contact order.

You can then suggest Steve comes back for further advice after the hearing, at which time the other issues can be looked at. Given the urgency you may also wish to postpone some of the Support Through Court paperwork until after the hearing, but the Client Consent Form should be completed straight away if he has not been to Support Through Court previously.

6.4 Active listening

In order to support a client, you need to understand what their situation is and the help they need. Once you have established a positive welcome, it is important to actively listen to the client as they explain why they have come to see you.

Activity 6

By signing in and enrolling on this course you can view and complete all activities within the course, track your progress in My OpenLearn Create. and when you have completed a course, you can download and print a free Statement of Participation - which you can use to demonstrate your learning.

Repeating and summarising what you have heard is a key skill and should be done whenever the client has given you information. This is important to ensure you have not misunderstood what is being said and that the client has an opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. It can also sometimes help the client to correct something they have said that they might wish to change when they hear it said back to them.

Did you know?

You can find out more about active listening and good practice when getting information from clients in section 4 of the Writing Statements  module.

6.5 Concluding session – return responsibility to the client

At the end of the session, it is important to put the emphasis back on the client to take their matter forward. Many clients who seek help from Support Through Court have been through difficult and traumatic experiences. Volunteers are encouraged to use a trauma informed approach, which empowers clients to make their own choices about what they want to do and to take responsibility for future actions.

Did you know?

You can find out more about a trauma informed approach in the Vulnerability  module.

A simple way of doing this is to ask the client at the end of the session what they intend to do now.

Activity 7

Sometimes clients are reluctant to end the session and will continue to talk about the issues you have been discussing. Thinking about your own volunteering and sessions with clients you have witnessed in the office, how would you end the session if the client is reluctant to leave?

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Comment

Techniques for ending the session if the client is reluctant include:

  • The broken record technique – carry on repeating that this is all we can do today
  • Stop using open questions
  • Stop asking questions at all
  • Use the past tense e.g. we completed the form and you wrote your statement
  • Return responsibility – what will you do now?
  • Give hope – we can see you again tomorrow/next week
  • Stand up and show client to the door.

Give your opinion

How would you rate your understanding of Cafcass after completing this module?

Submit your answer.

6.6 Your volunteering and interviewing clients

This module has explained what good practice is when meeting and interviewing clients.

In this module you have learned about:

  • How to welcome clients effectively
  • Active listening techniques
  • How to structure the session with your client
  • How to conclude the session.

Support Through Court have a suite of training modules which you can complete so please do take a look at the other modules available. You can study these in any order. They include:

The domestic abuse modules are designed to be studied in order, from the first working to the third. These modules are:

  1. Introducing domestic abuse
  2. Supporting survivors of domestic abuse
  3. Supporting clients who are accused of perpetrating domestic abuse

When meeting clients, please remember:

  • The first impression we make is vitally important
  • Structure the session so you gain the information you need to support the client
  • Conclude the session effectively.

Give your opinion

Well done, you have completed this module.

How much will it help you with interviewing clients in your volunteering?

Submit your answer.

6.7 Quiz

This self-assessment quiz contains 5 questions and is a great way to check your understanding of what you have learned in this module on Interviewing clients.

The pass mark is 60% and you have unlimited attempts at the quiz. This self-assessment quiz does not count towards your digital badge.

Go to the Interviewing clients quiz  now.

Acknowledgements

Grateful acknowledgement is made to the following sources:

Every effort has been made to contact copyright holders. If any have been inadvertently overlooked the publishers will be pleased to make the necessary arrangements at the first opportunity.

Important: *** against any of the acknowledgements below means that the wording has been dictated by the rights holder/publisher, and cannot be changed.

274843: 6.2 welcoming clients: Steve Topson