Voice of the child – resources for practitioners

When working with children or young people it is essential to gain a clear picture of their wishes, thoughts and feelings. It is good practice to ask the child or young person which practitioner they would like to gather this information from them.

In too many cases local and national reviews have found:

What do we mean by ‘the child’s voice’?
This not only refers to what children say directly, but to many other aspects of their presentation. It means seeing their experiences from their point of view.

Why is the child’s voice important?
Child focused work means children feel listened to, plans are more successful when they are involved and prompt decisions are made about safeguarding when necessary.

What should practitioners do?

There are many ways to ensure records include a strong sense of what life is like for an individual child at a particular time:

  • talk to the child about their life, likes & dislikes, hopes & dreams, worries & fears
    • talking to children is dependent upon their age and level of understanding
    • if children are able to talk there are a variety of ways of hearing their voice through direct work techniques such as ‘signs of safety’
    • record what children say in ‘direct quotes’ (e.g.I feel sad/happy/worried when…) as this is more powerful than something interpreted by a practitioner
  • children must be seen alone as they maybe inhibited to talk openly about their experiences by the presence of their parent or carer
  • consider the location – children may feel less inhibited about speaking if they are in a safe neutral setting
  • even if children are too young to speak it is still essential that workers convey a sense of what life is like for them
    • this can be done in a variety of ways – describe their presentation, how others interact with them and how they respond, comment on whether you consider they are functioning at a developmentally appropriate level
  • children may have means of ‘speaking’ other than verbal speech such as Makaton or signs and symbols; be creative
    • encourage children to draw or write about themselves and their lives
    • use a range of ideas; start off non-specific such as ‘draw your favourite food, favourite pop star’ then be more directive such as ‘draw where you live, who lives there, draw a picture of a happy day, a sad day, what do you wish was different, who is special’ etc.
  • describe a child’s physical appearance, do they appear thin, pale, dark shadows under their eyes, listless, or do they appear curious, ‘smiley’, active
  • observe the interactions between a child and their parents or carers – is there any difference in their interactions with other people
  • describe the child’s interactions with professionals
    • what is your hypothesis about this behaviour
    • does the child appear relaxed, wary, or overly familiar
    • does the child respond as you would expect a child to respond in that situation
  • ensure you include the views of other significant people in the child’s life who may have contributions to make about the child’s experiences
    • for example, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbours and teachers
    • research has found that these people often had a unique insight into the lives of children yet their views were given less weight than the views of professionals
  • include the views of fathers; they may have useful information to share, even if there are concerns about them
  • use independent advocates to ascertain children’s views as sometimes they can bring valuable context to children’s experiences
  • encourage children to participate in plans drawn up about them – they can do this directly by attending meetings or contribute by putting something in writing or drawing a picture, or giving someone a ‘message’ from them.

Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines

When consenting to medical treatment, the terms ‘Gillick competence’ and ‘Fraser guidelines’ are frequently used interchangeably despite there being a clear distinction between them.

Gillick competence is concerned with determining a child’s capacity to consent. Fraser guidelines are used specifically to decide if a child can consent to contraceptive or sexual health advice and treatment.

The CQC have published a ‘myth-buster’ to clarify the principles, laws and guidelines used when assessing children’s ability to make decisions about their treatment, as well as the differences between Gillick competence and Fraser guidelines – available on their website at www.cqc.org.uk/guidance-providers/gillick-competency-fraser-guidelines.

The NSPCC have published Gillick competency and Fraser guidelines to help people who work with children to balance the need to listen to children’s wishes with the responsibility to keep them safe.  This can be downloaded from their website at learning.nspcc.org.uk//gillick-competency-and-fraser-guidelines

Help seeking behaviour

Help seeking behaviour is a fundamental skill for all children. This is something children and young people learn through their early attachment relationships and through their contact with adults over time. It is a developmental skill that is essential for survival and needs support to develop; early experience of adversity, abuse and can have a negative effect.

Practitioners recognising, responding to and validating the help seeking behaviour of children and young people is essential.

Public inquiries, research, inspections and SCRs have highlighted the way in which children can become invisible to practitioners in their work across the safeguarding continuum. This is despite a legislative framework which make it clear that children should be fully involved in decisions about their lives and that their views should routinely be sought regarding their own understanding of their circumstance.

Research highlights that there are many barriers for children and young people in asking practitioners for help and to talk about their worries and concerns so they can be addressed.

Children and young people also report that when they do ask for help, they are often not heard or their worries not acted upon. The consequence of this is that a recent report by the Children’s Commissioner has found that only 1 in 8 victims of abuse felt able to ask for help.

If children are not responded to appropriately by practitioners, their concerns not listened to or addressed, this is likely to impact on their self-esteem and resilience; their short and long term developmental outcomes; and their ability to seek help about things that are worrying them.

Further reading:

Resources for practitioners

There are a range of tools that can be used to capture the views of a child or young person. There are different tools appropriate for children or young people of different ages, level of need or understanding. There are no factors including age, understanding or level of need that should be a barrier to capturing the views of a child or young person as part of an assessment.

It is recommended that a family assessment be undertaken with adult and child family members. However if a young person has a level of competence that enables them to understand the assessment process, a family assessment can be undertaken with them without parental consent.

Children or young people should also be given the opportunity to attend and contribute to a ‘team around the family’ type meeting where appropriate. Should they not attend or not wish to attend, their wishes, thoughts and feelings should still be shared. This can be provided in any format including in written or picture form. Tools which can support in the gathering of this information can also be found in this resource. Any work that reflects the voice of the child or young person should also be submitted as an attachment alongside an assessment or review.

More tools and information can be can be found in our Signs of Safety resource.

  • In addition the Sheffkids website is a useful resource for ‘Voice of the Child’ tools.

Children’s Participation Toolkit for Social Workers (activities & worksheets)
This resource contains various activities, worksheets and templates assisting social workers and early help workers to involve children in the process of assessments, intervention planning as well as conducting reviews in a positive, supportive and enabling way.

The resource is available from the social workers toolbox website at www.socialworkerstoolbox.com/childrens-participation-toolkit-for-social-workers/

‘Say it your own way’: worksheets facilitating children’s participation in assessment
‘Say it your own way’ has 40+ engaging worksheets facilitating children’s participation in assessment. The worksheets help workers to ascertain children’s daily routine, likes, dislikes, feelings, wishes as well as their views on their family, friends, helpers, home, neighbourhood, school etc.

The booklet also includes two examples of how to explain assessment in a child-friendly manner and is available from the social workers toolbox website at www.socialworkerstoolbox.com/say-way-40-worksheets-facilitating-childrens-participation-assessment/

‘Animal talk’ activity: using animal pictures to get to know children and discuss their views and feelings
This tool contains 24 pictures of various animals and suggestions how they can be used to get to know children and discuss their views and feelings in an interactive and fun way. The resource is available from the social workers toolbox website at www.socialworkerstoolbox.com/animal-talk-activity-using-animal-pictures-get-know-children-discuss-views-feelings/

Getting to know a child’s routine activity tool
This tool supports social workers to gain an understanding of a child’s or young person’s daily routine in an engaging way. The document contains 40+ individual slips with various activities/feelings which a child is asked to sort out into three piles – every day, sometimes or never, depending on how often they engage in this activity/have this particular feeling. The resource is available from the social workers toolbox website at www.socialworkerstoolbox.com/getting-know-childs-routine-tool/

Establishing a day in the life of a school age child (sheet)
This tool supports professionals to gain a good understanding of a child or young person daily routine. It should help to identify positives or strengths in the child/young person’s daily routine, as well highlighting areas where there may be concerns.  The sheet is available from the social workers toolbox website at www.socialworkerstoolbox.com/establishing-a-day-in-the-life-of-a-school-age-child-sheet/

A culturagram is a family assessment tool used in the practice of social work which was first introduced by Dr. Elaine Congress.

Autism Toolbox website
The Autism Toolbox website is an online resource to support the inclusion of children and young people with autism spectrum disorder in mainstream education services. As well as introducing and describing some of the more common challenges a pupil with autism might face, it provides real life case studies from Scottish schools and practical examples of supports that practitioners can translate and use in their own school setting. It also signposts to other useful websites .

Listening to children in serious case reviews
This government report looks at the importance of listening to the voice of the child in serious case reviews and is available on the gov.uk website at www.gov.uk/listening-to-children-in-serious-case-reviews


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