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Teaching, Learning and

Assessing Communication
Skills With Children and
Young People in Social
Work Education
Scie KR 12
Key Findings and Implications

Michelle Lefevre, Barry

and Karen Tanner
University of Sussex and Tavistock and
Portman NHS Trust
The Knowledge Review -
Research Questions
What is known about....
 the way communication skills with CYP are thought about and
applied in social work practice, and about the effectiveness of
this aspect of practice? (i.e. what should be taught)
 the way social work educators think about, teach and assess
communication skills with CYP and about the effectiveness of
this aspect of qualifying social work education? (i.e. how it
should be taught)
 the way educators in allied professions think about, teach and
assess communication skills with CYP (i.e. what can we learn
from others)
 ‘Communication’ in social work involves a two-way process of sharing
factual information, thoughts and feelings, directly or indirectly and in
various ways, with the aim of building common understanding and
enabling appropriate action to be undertaken
 We mainly looked at direct face-to-face communication between child
and SW. NB almost no research on the use of interactive media in SW
 using distinctions made by the children/ professionals we consulted,
we defined skill as including personal capacity/capability and ethical
commitment by students (being) as well as the exercise of acquired
techniques and approaches (doing). Underpinning knowledge?
NB. Key findings of the RR of SWP
Technical and micro-skills in….
 Keeping CYP informed
 Child-centred communication
 Play, symbolic, creative, non-verbal and expressive
 Going at the child’s pace
 Listening to direct & indirect communication
 Interviewing
 Using tools (e.g. ecomaps, rating scales,
assessment schedules, life-story books)
NB Key finding from the RR of SWP
Skilled communication is not just a
matter of technical or micro-skills but
draws upon underpinning…
 Knowledge
 E.g. child development, inheritance, experience,
context, methods/models
 Emotional and personal capacity
 Warmth, humour, playful, working with feelings
 Values and ethical commitments
 AOP, rights perspective, confidentiality, child-

 So not just ‘doing’ but also ‘being’ and ‘knowing’

 systematic research review in two parts:
 review of evidence on communication skills in social
work (CSSW) with CYP
 review of evidence on teaching and assessing CSSW
with CYP
 practice survey in two parts:
 primary survey of SW programmes of teaching and
assessing CSSW with CYP
 secondary survey of allied professional education
Results: Practice Survey
Teaching and assessing CSSW with

 opportunistic sampling of 73 HEIs offering 63

UG and 31 PG programmes (NB no data from
 Research Questions for Practice Survey
 How do social work educators think about, teach and
assess communication skills with children?
 What is the current state of knowledge about the
effectiveness of this aspect of qualifying social work
Key Findings of Practice Survey (1)
The location, integration and development of
CSSW with CYP in the curriculum
 No coherent model has yet emerged.

 In almost every case the teaching and assessment of

CSSW with CYP was embedded in other modules focusing
on either generic communication skills or on social
work practice.

 In respect of a generic experience, no programme could

guarantee that a student would have the chance to
practice direct communication with children despite the
significant increase in days available for practice learning.
Key Findings of Practice Survey (2)
The aims and objectives of
 There are differing assumptions by social work
educators about the aims and objectives of
teaching communication skills.
 Two broad distinctions: (consistent with research
 Skill acquisition - taking a task-centred approach to
acquiring technical or micro-skills (‘doing’).
 A capacity-building approach - concentrated on the
communicative capacity of the student underpinning the
performance of any specified skill (‘being’)
Key Findings of Practice Survey (3)
What is taught and how
 In both UG and PG courses personal capabilities or capacities
required for effective communication are more likely to be taught or
expected to be taught than technical or micro-skills
 Module aims and objectives appear to enable the learning of specific
skills in the latter part of programmes to be built upon a foundation
of core skills earlier on. But this is not consistently the case.
 Direct teaching or instruction, underpinned or supported by
interactive experiential methods, is the most common approach.
 Children involved opportunistically rather than strategically in
teaching and assessment. No clear evidence on the effectiveness of
their involvement.
Key Findings of Practice Survey (4)
The likelihood that CSSW with CYP
will be directly assessed
 If skilled communication with CYP is directly assessed at
all in college this tends to be arranged opportunistically

 The general absence of assessment of direct skills in

communication with CYP in college does not appear to
be remedied by specific arrangements or requirements
in placement, even where that placement is in children’s

 In no cases did respondents report that agreements or

contracts specified that students would be explicitly
assessed in direct practice and communication with
Conclusions of the Practice
 There is no guarantee of achieving the espoused aims of
programmes that students will learn elements of core
communicative capacity with children early in their training and
that communication in the context of more specific and applied
practice settings will be taught later
 that arrangements for assessment consolidate the episodic and
fortuitous nature of learning communication with children
 that these aims, aspects and methods of teaching and
assessment are in any case contested
Results: Research Review
 218 SW practice citations (123: empirical findings).
52 SW education (31: empirical)
 ‘communication’ an implicit and/or contested
concept so no coherent body of research relating
to CSSW with CYP. But we could begin to identify
set of core conditions and key skills
 few reports of teaching and assessment methods.
But we could identify contrasting perspectives on
what counts as capability and skill and some
indications of how they might be best taught
Key Findings of the Research Review of
Social Work Education (RR of SWE)

 The research picture is informed by contrasting

perspectives about the communicative task in SW
with children and young people and about the
nature of childhood
 developmental accounts and a therapeutic/reparative
aspiration. SW communication based in ‘containment’
 human rights approaches and an emphasis on
participation and citizenship. SW communication based
in ‘empowerment’
Key Findings of the RR of SWE (2)
Acquiring skills
 research focuses on the enhancement of
personal capability as well as the acquisition
of performative skill
 skill acquisition
 interactive/experiential methods reported,
especially role play
 systematic social skills training in simulated
scenarios can facilitate understanding of core
(counselling) skills but follow-up needed,
especially through critical self-reflection during
training and professional supervision of personal
experience in practice             
Key Findings of the RR of SWE (3)
Personal capability
 two perspectives on capability:
 a psychosocial stance: concerned with the emotional and developmental
underpinning of a communicative and reflective self-capacity.
 Extended child observation and experiential learning in daily living advised.
 an ‘empowerment’ stance: preparing students as active participants
learning to exemplify empowerment, models anti-oppressive practice.
 Problem-based groupwork indicated.

 continuing commitment to modelling as the context for learning

 critical reflection universally valued and experiential methods generally favoured
 but no agreement on exactly what kind of capability and skill should be modelled, learnt and reflected
 and little evidence about how learning is transferred into practice
Key Findings of the RR of SWE (4)
The psychosocial approach to
developing personal capability
 evidence that observation task helps in development
of skill of being observant
 and that seminar discussion and notes/papers
enhance capacity to reflect on internal as well as
external world of children
 specifically helpful in learning about child experience
in the context of difference and stereotyping
 but no independent evidence of the effectiveness of
the daily living model in residential care
The ‘empowerment
approach to developing
personal capability
 very few reports therefore no substantive
evidence of effectiveness

 one report of overwhelming student

enthusiasm in one case but no follow up in
Four questions for today
 What do we think counts as skilled
communication in contemporary social work?
 Should we seek to link the development of
personal capability/commitment for effective
engagement with Children and Young People
with acquiring appropriate performative skill?
 What would a 'fit for purpose' curriculum look
like (bearing in mind workforce developments
in children's services)?
 Which teaching/assessment methods are the
most effective?