The Art of Engagement

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It is common knowledge that Children’s Services departments are under pressure to work at high standards high with few resources.

While resources play a key role in being able to maintain a high standard of work, it is even more so imperative that practitioners, namely Social Workers, have the skill set to engage the families and professionals. The point is to balance the development of a trusting relationship with families to achieve an accurate assessment, with the coordination and organising of professionals who will supply information to the Social Worker and support to the family. Everybody working together will reduce the likelihood of serious injury and child deaths.

This is the first a two-part blog which, in its entirety explores, how engagement meets the sustainability of relationships created for safeguarding.

According to the Oxford dictionary to engage, in this context, is to occupy or attract someone’s interest or attention; while to interact is for someone to do something in such I have spoken to countless Social Work and Family Support practitioners who tell me how difficult they find it to sustain the child’s interest in engaging with them during visits and they struggle to gain the information they require from children. Some practitioners have told me, “The child I see is closed, and he does not really want to engage…”; so I become curious and say, “Tell me how you are trying to engage them.” It is important to remember that making the child feel comfortable to talk and going at their pace is imperative; everything else is peripheral. This is a prerequisite to building and sustaining rapport, which will lead to good quality interaction and engagement.

Engagement – Let's start at the beginning!

When we think about the reasons why we are trying to engage the child we are seeing, we are led to conclude that it is to make an impact of some kind, right? So the priority is to develop a rapport with that child. This can be achieved within seconds, for example, an acknowledgement: a smile, eye contact, kneeling to be at their level, a wave, wearing a happy and inviting facial expression, etc.

Once rapport has been built, you have an opening to move the interaction into a different phase; the verbal and physical. This can include saying hello, while smiling; introducing yourself, asking them about themselves and their day, extending a handshake or standing nearby, for example. We all know this as ‘breaking the ice’, which is just as effective and necessary with children as it is adults.

Even without the child engaging verbally, they are likely to be engaging physically or by using non-verbal communication because you have already gained their interest and attention. So, let's say the child responds positively with a smile, saying hello and is engaging in conversation with you. It might all seem like the ‘superficial talk’, but it serves an important role in the child developing trust in you so that you can continue to successfully engage them over time and so that your work can be a meaningful part of their life.

Stepping Stones

It is important that the child knows something about you, your role, why you are seeing them and what you have to offer that will benefit them. Now the last bit here is often forgotten – How do they benefit from opening up to you? Questions we should ask ourselves as practitioners are, “Why should this child tell me anything about their personal life, experiences, interests, etc.? What do they understand about why I need to speak with them and what good will come of it for them?” This is especially important for practitioners who will see the child regularly as part of an assessment or support plan.

Think back to when you were a child. Imagine having to see someone whom you did not ask to see bombarding you with questions about yourself. Imagine you have no clue why they are asking these questions, where and whom the information is going to, when the visits will stop or what will happen at the end of it all. It is usually incredibly intimidating, in such a context, for children to see adults who are outside of their inner circle and whom they have not opted to see; so there’s duty to make engagement and interaction informative and fun, where possible!

Build Trust and likability

Be approachable, friendly and not in a rush when seeing children. They know when you are fobbing them off! They need to know that you want to spend time with them and that you are genuinely interested in them and their experiences.

Final Thoughts…

Engagement is the first part of being able to develop and secure a good working relationship with any individual. It is important that time is taken to get this right when working with children, so they can trust you as an attachment figure.

Read part 2 of our blog here.

See details for Nicole Louis's seminar here.

COMPANY NAME: All About Families



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