‘When we use the term ‘the child’s voice’ we not only refer to what children say directly, but rather to many ways that children communicate with us, including both verbal and nonverbal communication. It means more than seeking their views, which could just mean the child saying what they want, rather than really being involved in what happens’ – Warrington LSCB
When working with children it is important to gain a clear representation of their wishes, thoughts, and feelings. Obtaining a child’s voice on their wishes and experiences helps to ensure that children feel listened to and valued. Capturing a child’s voice does not only just refer to what they say directly but also looking at aspects of their presentation. We want to understand a child’s experiences from their own point of view. When children feel listened to and have the option to be involved in their own care, plans are seen to be more successful. A child’s lived experience should be at the centre of our practice, their safety and what their daily life looks like should influence any work or intervention completed.
Obtaining a child’s voice is set out as a requirement in legislative frameworks (Working Together to Safeguard Children, 2018). The Children’s Act (1989) requires local authorities to consider a child’s wishes and feelings when determining their care and services provided to them. Article 12 of The United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child 1989, states that when adults are making decisions that affect children, children have the right to say what they think should happen and have their opinions considered. No One noticed no one heard (NSPCC 2019) tells us that over 80% of children tried to tell someone about the abuse they were suffering. Children wanted someone to notice that something was wrong; they wanted to be asked direct questions; they wanted professionals to investigate sensitively but thoroughly. The report also shown us that children found disclosing abuse to be a difficult journey and 90% of children had had negative experiences at some point, mostly where the people they told had responded poorly. The report shows us that children generally made more than one disclosure; of the 203 disclosures in childhood that were made, 117 disclosures (58 per cent) were acted upon by recipients.
Key findings from serious case reviews found that:
- Children were not seen frequently enough by the professionals involved, or was not asked about their views and feelings
- Agencies did not listen to adults who tried to speak on behalf of the child and who had important information to contribute
- Parents and carers often prevented professionals from seeing and listening to the child
- Practitioners focused too much on the needs of the parents, especially on vulnerable parents, and overlooked the implications for the child
- Agencies did not interpret their findings well enough to protect the child
What children want
- Professionals to be vigilant and recognize when things just aren’t right
- Children want to understand what is happening, they want to know that they are being heard, understood and what actions will follow
- Children want professionals to keep them informed of any decisions and plans which are being made about them – they want to be included
- Children want to be believed
How to keep the child in focus/capture their voice
- A good start is to explain your own role and listen actively and openly without advising or judging. Make sure the child knows what we will do with their information and what steps we may have to take to avoid losing their trust. It’s important to remember to seek consent where appropriate.
- Every child is unique- therefore be creative in ways you capture their voice (tools, Makaton, Signalong, direct questions, language line, observation, body language, play/drawing)
- Talk to the child about their likes and dislikes. Identify what is important to the child, and what is important for the child.
- Record how the child interacts with other people, in different settings and at different times (of day, before and after placement). These times should be appropriate to the child.
- Consider location where you have engagement with a child, safe neutral places can often encourage improved communication; Try and see children in places that are familiar to them
- If English is not a child’s first language, then utilise the trust recognised language line when communicating with that child, it is not best practice to utilise a family member to interpret
- It’s easy to forget that a child’s behaviour is a form of communication. Behaviour can mean as much as words, even in our verbal children. We need to closely observe a child’s body language, posture, facial expressions, and tone of voice.
- We need to ask ourselves is what is the communication behind the behaviour? Children who can’t speak any words (due to age, additional needs, or any other reason) are still communicating with us – use your observation skills!
- For children with limited verbal communication, recognise who is in the best place to interpret sounds, gestures, and behaviours, what is normal or concerning behaviour for that child. Never be fearful to ask for a parent’s/carer’s views when you’re trying to interpret the child’s behaviour as they know the child best. However, remain cautious as in certain cases it’s not always best to rely on parental views, we could ask school, nursery, or anyone else who knows the child well.
- VIPER - Voice, Inclusion, Participation, Empowerment, Research. Link below.
- Consider the child’s overall presentation, environment, and interaction with their carer’s. Observing how the child interacts and responds to parents shows us a lot about how they see their parents.
- Recording the voice of the child is not a one-off event and should be a golden thread throughout all documentation made about a child. Every contact counts!
- Practitioners should ensure that they record exactly what they have seen and exactly what a child has said. Analysis of what you have seen (child’s behavior, presentation, home environment, interaction with parents etc) and interpretation of behavior in records is key.
- Record views of other significant people in the child’s life who may have contributions to the child’s experiences.
- Record keeping should ensure that a child only needs to tell their story once (should they wish to), make sure that another practitioner reading your records can understand the child’s lived experiences and can interoperate their vulnerabilities, strengths, and individual resilience.
- Any tools for communication used can be attached to the records