Social workers need better skills to communicate with children

This article appeared on page 39 under the heading Patchy performance

Social workers need to communicate well with children but are they being trained to do so, ask Barry Luckock and Michelle Lefevre

Every practitioner within the new integrated children’s services is expected to be able to communicate and engage successfully with children and young people, as part of the government’s requirement for a “common core of skills and knowledge”.

Social workers have a long history of direct work with children and young people and they retain a key role at the heart
of the Every Child Matters agenda. Most of the work they do is in the most complex childcare situations where engaging and
communicating with children is particularly demanding. `

Meanwhile their own education and training at qualifying and post-qualifying levels has undergone major reform in recent years. It might be expected, therefore, that the social work profession would already be at least adequately prepared for
the new policy expectations of improved practice in direct work with children.

Surprisingly this does not seem to be the case. Recent research found there was no guarantee that any student, on qualifying,
will have been taught about or assessed in communication skills with children and young people.(1) Survey evidence taken
from respondents on more than 40 per cent of qualifying programmes (largely in England) suggests that the learning of
skilled communication with children is marginalised in college-based teaching and not routinely assessed.

Despite the extension of practice-based learning to 200 days, and the requirement that students gain practice experience in
at least two settings and with two or more user groups, there is no actual obligation upon programmes to ensure students
work directly with children. Survey respondents reported that methods of practice assessment of capability and skill in communication with children and young people in their own right remained undeveloped. The involvement of children and young people themselves in teaching and assessment is very patchy.

These rather troubling findings can be explained in various ways. Certainly there are the perennial problems of a packed
curriculum, growing class sizes that reduce opportunities for effective skills teaching and perhaps variable interest and
expertise among academic tutors. Practice placement availability is notoriously unpredictable.

More significantly the General Social Care Council needs to rethink the level and focus of skill expected of social workers
on qualification. If students are to be prepared effectively for the highly specialist practice roles that now define social
work, both core generic and basic specialist skills must be taught concurrently at qualifying level. The present plan to
reserve specialist teaching for post-qualifying training leaves students ill-equipped for practice in children’s services on registration.

(1) Luckock, M Lefevre, Knowledge Review: Teaching Learning and Assessing Communication Skills with Children in Social Work Education, Scie, 2006 Barry Luckock is senior lecturer, and Michelle Lefevre is a lecturer at the University of Sussex



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