Communication is important for building trust and respect with children and it will help you find out what they are thinking and feeling. However, it can be difficult communicating with children, getting your message across, and finding out the information you need. They may not always understand what you are asking, or give reliable answers. For example, if you ask something direct like ‘did your parents do this to you’, this would be a leading question which could cause them to say yes even if it wasn’t true. So it is best to ask open and non-leading questions, such as ‘how did you get that bruise?’ in order to get the best response and make them feel more comfortable.
The principles for communicating with children:
- It should be age-appropriate and child-friendly – using appropriate language, characters, stories, music, and humour is important when communicating with children. They will all have different needs and interests and will learn in different ways so it is important to treat them as an individual and think of the best way to communicate.
- It should address the child holistically – all aspects of child development are interconnected, such as physical, social, emotional and cognitive. Communication should balance and give attention to their specific development needs.
- It should be positive and strengths-based – communication should focus on portraying and nurturing the child’s strengths and potential, instead of their problems. This will help the child to build self-confidence and competence, allowing them to be more imaginative and see possibilities.
- It should address the needs and abilities of all – communication should help the child to see themselves positively and equal to others. It should positively portray and value all children from different cultures, ethnic groups and backgrounds.
Source: http://www.unicef.org/cwc/. Accessed on 18/10/2016.
When communicating and gathering information from a child, it is important to provide them with the support they need and to be patient. You may not be able to gather all the information you need in one conversation as it could be too much for the child to take and they may struggle to pay attention. Make sure you sit down and talk to children at their eye-level, and if they don’t want to make eye contact with you when they are talking, you could play a game together to give them something to do. Use open and non-leading questions when talking to them and get them to tell you about things instead of assuming, for example, instead of asking them ‘are you scared and unhappy at home’ say, ‘how do you feel when you’re at home’. Actively listen to them throughout the conversation and let them know that you believe what they’re saying.
Tips for communicating and information-gathering with children:
- Talk to the child at their eye level, so you’re not looking down on them
- Keep them occupied throughout the conversation by playing a game
- Use open and non-leading questions when speaking to them
- Lean towards them to show empathy and make them feel more comfortable
- Make eye contact with them when you can
- Sit comfortably and relax while you’re talking to them
- Be patient and allow them time to talk
- If they seem uncomfortable or they’re losing interest, don’t be pushy with them
- Make notes whenever you can so you remember what they said.
Once you have gathered enough information and reasonably believe that the child is being abused or neglected, this would need to be reported to your supervisor or manager and a child protection agency. They will need to interview the child again, so it is best not to spend too long talking to the child and asking them questions as they will have to go through it again. If the child is too young and isn’t yet verbal, you would need to observe them and look out for any signs and symptoms of abuse to be able to assess whether something needs to be reported. In this case, you may also need to speak to their parents and gather more information from them to make the decision.