Practice tips for social workers to consider when engaging and communicating with disabled children and young people
This key information outlines the importance of seeking and establishing the views and consent of disabled children and young people and provides tips to assist social workers in facilitating this participation.
Seeking and establishing the views and consent of children/young people is a fundamental aspect of child protection work, however international and local research demonstrates that disabled children have been largely excluded from consultation and involvement in decisions that affect them.
In particular social worker’s communication with disabled children/young people has been identified as a problematic area with social workers often assuming that the child/young person is unable to communicate as a result of their impairment, rather than seeking creative ways of establishing their views and consent.
The following practice tips have therefore been established from a review of the literature on this topic. These tips have been designed to assist practitioners when communicating with disabled children/young people in order to seek and establish their views and consequently facilitate their participation.
Before a meeting
- Have I consulted with the child’s family/whānau, caregivers and professionals about how the child prefers to communicate and what can be done to enhance communication?
- What further advice and information do I require?
- Have I got all the resources/aids I need to facilitate communication?
- What will I need to learn or do in order to use these aids/resources?
- Is an independent facilitator, interpreter, advocate or familiar adult required?
- Have I sent the child information (in a format accessible and understandable to them) about who I am, why I’m coming to see them, and how long it will take?
- Have I selected a venue that is comfortable to the child and a time of day that will enhance communication?
- Have I considered spending time with the child to experience how they experience things?
During a meeting
- Have I obtained the child’s willingness and consent for the interview to occur?
- Have I checked with the child how they will let me know if they wish to have a break or end the interview?
- Have I told the child they do not have to answer questions which make them uncomfortable?
- Have I told the child that there are no right or wrong answers; it is what they think that I want to know?
- Have I ensured I’m looking and speaking directly to the child?
- Am I keeping my language straightforward and limiting my use of things like figures of speech, abstract concepts, double negatives, jargon and acronyms?
- Am I proceeding at the required pace?
- Am I considering information that may be generated through the child’s gestures, body language, facial expressions and behaviours?
- Am I thinking about the whole child, and not just their impairment?
- Have I informed the child when I will be next meeting with them?
 Kelly, B. (2005). Social work with disabled children. Childrenz Issues, 9(1), 22-27.