Tools social workers can use to talk to children

    Which techniques and resources should be in every social worker’s toolkit when doing direct work with children? David Shemmings, Yvonne Shemmings, David Wilkins, Yvalia Febrer, Alice Cook, Fran Feeley and Claire Denham have put one together

    The Munro Review highlighted that the only way to create a “child-centred” system was for social workers to have the time and the skill to undertake a great deal more direct work with children.

    Direct work needs to done in the right setting and involves more than asking a child “how are things?” Sometimes they need different media – paint, clay, pen and paper, puppets, virtual reality – to make sense of their “wishes and feelings”.

    We offer practical demonstrations of direct work methods each of which seeks to understand the mind of the child and the child’s world.


    Dolls - toolkit for working with children

    What is the technique?

    Using dolls or animals to represent people in the child’s life, you begin a story and then ask the child to “show and tell” you what might happen next. This technique is based upon techniques such as the Story Stem Assessment Profile (SSAP). Expert training in the SSAP is at the Anna Freud Centre in London and to assess secure and insecure attachment in children, you would need to be fully trained in the technique. However, the use of any “story” or role-play involving low-levels of conflict, such as a short separation, an argument, or a minor accident, can still give insights into a “child’s world”. It is most useful with children aged, developmentally, between four and nine years.

    Read more: Find out how to use this technique in practice

    Observation - toolkit for talking to children


    What is the technique?

    This technique involves taking a step back and simply observing the interaction between a carer and child in their own home. Research shows that the level of sensitivity and insight a carer shows their child is important to a child’s healthy development. Carers who are unable or struggle with this are more likely to be frightening, confusing or even abusive or neglectful towards their child.

    Read more: Find out how to use this technique in practice


    Games - toolkit for looking after children

    What is the technique?

    This technique is a simple board game for two players. It helps develop a trusting relationship with the child because it involves the social worker and the child sharing information instead of just the child having to reveal information.

    In addition, it gives the child something to focus on while you are are talking about difficult topics. It can be used with any child happy to play it with you. A simple version is often good for an initial meeting or for those at earlier stages of development. A more complex version can be devised for follow-up meetings or with more developed children.

    Read more: Find out how to use this technique in practice


    Drawing - toolkit for talking to children

    What is the technique?

    There are a number of techniques to try with children that can be facilitated with just some coloured pencils or crayons and some paper.

    Read more: Find out how to use this technique in practice

    Writing up direct work in court reports

    Royal Courts of Justice
    Direct work with children also needs to be written up into core assessments, child protection case conference reports and court reports. Paintings and drawings almost ‘speak for themselves’ – consider the ‘islands’ example – and need only to be explained. Other techniques should be ‘brought alive’ to create an unsentimental ‘child’s-eye view’. Professor David Shemmings provides four tips.

    Read more on evidencing direct social work with children in court reports


    The ADAM project

    NCB Resource Pack: Communicating with children: A two-way process



    David Shemmings is professor of social work at Kent University, Yvonne Shemmings is an independent child protection consultant and trainer, Yvalia Febrer is a social worker formerly of Hounslow and now at Richmond’s children and families team, Alice Cook is a senior family support worker in Surrey’s child protection team, Claire Denham is a social worker in Lewisham’s family support and intervention team, Fran Feeley is a social worker with the St Michael’s Fellowship in south London and David Wilkins is a deputy team manager in Enfield’s disabled children’s team.

    Tips for direct work with children from Community Care on Vimeo.


    TitleEvidence-based research into disorganised attachment and child maltreatment

    Author David and Yvonne Shemmings

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