At our AGM & Conference in November last year our Service Development Manager, Philip Coleman delivered a very popular session relating to the voice of the child in contact arrangements. Many of you were not able to attend this because of it being fully booked or going to other workshops, so we have taken this opportunity to write an article containing the highlights. He also shares the findings of the Family Justice Young People’s Board on their insights following child contact centre inspections.
Engaging with children
The Children Act 1989 and Working Together 2018 tell us that the voice of the child is of paramount importance and that consideration of this needs of the child are of paramount importance. It is also good practice to make children feel cared about and that their views are important. This is likely to be achieved by making ourselves available to children but also by acting upon the things they tell us.
Show children that they are important, if they share something with us, tell them what we will do with the information and what might happen next. Once this is done tell them what we have done about it. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is to be reliable, consistent and approachable.
The current situation
The voice of the child in contact services is not always as strong as it could be. It seems that there isn’t always the focus on providing information for children. There is no one to blame for this; at the end of the day we deal with adults and we work with them to make contact work and to resolve their difficulties in the interests of children.
We know that children get very anxious about contact. In smaller groups we thought about the reasons this might be and came up with a range of ideas, showing how well we understand the children we work with.
Expectations and anxieties
What we are effectively expecting children to do is spend time with a stranger, or someone that they have heard lots of negative things about, or someone that makes mum cry every time his name comes up in conversation. Just to compound this confusion people are calling this person “dad” (mum, nan, grandad, uncle and so on).
The child has a clear idea from society, from television, from the internet and from friends etc about what a “dad” is. However, this person does not fit with this stereotype, but we are still calling him “dad” and the child is encouraged to do the same.
The child will be experiencing a range of emotion about this that will not only be fuelled by their own emotion but also that of others. They learn about their world through those around them and if there is negative body language, emotion, verbal berating or other such messages they will learn that contact is not a positive event.
How do you communicate with children and young people coming to your centre?
The nature of the fact that children and young people are using a contact centre could be an indicator that the resident parent is not happy or comfortable with the arrangement and therefore the chances of the child hearing positive messages about the service are greatly reduced. These messages must come from us if they are being received at all.
So how do we do this?
What forms of communication can we use to convey these positive messages?
- Talking to the child, and
- Asking them about how they feel.
Involving children and young people in the pre-visit
Pre-visits are mandatory for all NACCC Accredited Contact Centres. There should be two parts to a pre-visit:
- Allowing the child and young person to see the centre, resources and to meet with staff. This should allow for the opportunity for them to ask and have answered any questions.
- Allowing for time to be spent with the parent(s) to confirm referral information and to have the opportunity to complete contact agreements etc.
If pre-visits are being managed in this way, then why not make part of the pre-visit child-focused? This is a way to improve on how ‘child centred’ your centre is as it demonstrates engagement with children. An easy way to do this would be to utilise a Children’s Pre-Visit Checklist. At present there is no NACCC Template for this. As a group we thought about the kinds of items that might go on such a checklist and how this might be of benefit, again the range of experience in the room provided a raft of inciteful responses.
The Pre-Visit – Ideas for a children pre-visit checklist.
- The child has seen the building (including toilets etc).
- The child has had the opportunity to meet the co-ordinator or their regular contact supervisor.
- The child has been given a brief description of what service they will be offered.
- The child has been given the opportunity to ask any questions.
- The child has had the opportunity to talk about any worries.
- The child has been asked whether they have a favourite toy or anything else that they would like to bring to sessions.
Usually the best way to enable this to happen would be for two adults to come to pre-visits so that one can engage with the child whilst the other engages in the elements that a child does not need to be present for. Checkout how making a sunflower helps children feel at home at Bingley Child Contact Centre
Proving a leaflet for children and young people – a vital tool
The NACCC standards ask that children are provided with a leaflet about the service they are being provided. This should be written to compliment a range of age ranges and include positive information about the service. Ideally this would be concise and accessible, containing only relevant information and inviting them to talk about things that are important to them.
This leaflet might give children something to refer to in between the pre-visit and first contact session. This leaflet might be the only access that the child has to positive information about what they will experience at the contact centre making it one of the most important documents that you will produce.
St Albans Abbey M.U. supported contact service have recently produced a leaflet for children attending their service – why not check it out and get some ideas for your centre?
Phil Coleman, NACCC Service Development Manager
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