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Know the child you’re working with

Practitioners supporting children in care are often faced with difficult decisions about children’s needs. These decisions include where the child will live and how often a child has contact with their family of origin. Being able to communicate with children is an essential ingredient for working with and on behalf of children.

Listening, being authentic and reflecting what is being said are skills that are just as important when it comes to working with children as it is when engaging with adults. Children’s communication skills and styles and how they are positioned in the world affect the communication process. For example, children are generally less verbal and more demonstrative than adults. Moreover, children are often aware that they are relatively powerless in society and may, as a result, work out unique ways of ‘managing’ conversations with adults—particularly when it comes to being questioned about emotionally uncomfortable topics

(Thomas, 2001).

In general, children’s communication is usually indirect and, depending on the child’s age, may need to be facilitated with the use of tools such as drawings or toys. Having access to a variety of tools is therefore necessary and may require prior consideration before meeting and talking with a child.

Engage children using formal methods, for example, an interview, and informal methods, such as when driving a child between places. Guide the conversation when speaking with a child, and gently move the child from one issue to another to ensure their views and needs regarding issues that affect them and their future care are listened to and understood.

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