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Involving children’s views in care planning leads to better outcomes. Carl Thomson and Fiona Walker explain how to put this into practice
There are many reasons why social workers need to visit a child in care. Visits might take place to address safeguarding issues, to carry out assessments, or sometimes just to develop and maintain a good relationship.
It is important to know enough about the child to avoid asking the wrong question or having to ask too many questions – read their file before you visit, speak to previous workers or other people who know the child.
Where and when?
Make sure you are comfortable with the venue and that you have considered confidentiality. You may want to take the child to a neutral venue such as a family centre or you could take them out to develop your relationship before talking to them.
Some children will speak freely whatever the environment but others may find a drive in the car less threatening as they do not have to give eye contact. Some children will talk more openly when they have someone they trust with them or something to do, such as playing a computer game.
It doesn’t always have to be face-to-face or even verbal: you could e-mail, text, write a letter or send a card. Talk to the child in their own language; don’t use jargon. Understand non-verbal communication and the impact of this. Show the child you are interested in them and what they are saying, but also watch what they are showing you. If the child asks you questions, answer them honestly.
Don’t rush the conversation and make sure you have enough time to hear everything they want to tell you. If you have a time limit on your visit, tell them. Know when it is time to walk away but do not lose your dedication and keep trying.
You need to remember that you cannot always tell the child what they want to hear or need to hear but you can always listen, hear, try to understand and respond, but most importantly keep them informed. You may need to have the same conversation with the child many times before they can digest what is being said.
Carl Thomson is an independent reviewing officer and Fiona Walker (pictured) is an IRO manager at Lancashire Council. Both are former social work students of Lancaster University
This article is published in the 25 February 2010 edition of Community Care magazine under the headline How to Involve Children in Care Planning