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Capturing the voice of the child in practice with domestic abuse cases

Emily Hill, Registered Social Worker, discusses her new book ‘It’s Ok To Talk’ to help social workers, practitioners, families and children with domestic abuse cases.

22/08/22

Capturing the voice of the child in practice with domestic abuse cases

Social work is an incredibly challenging profession. The demands on practitioners to meet assessment deadlines, visit families and manage unexpected safeguarding issues can often make it difficult to spend quality time with children to gain their views. Tools and resources are limited, meaning social workers must think on their feet and there often isn’t the time to plan direct work effectively.

I know this, because I have been there and have stood where many still stand. I still practise social work, but within an acute hospital where the challenges are slightly different. However, the voice of the child still, at times, gets lost in translation.

Towards the end of the first lockdown, I decided to take the plunge and write a children’s book for practitioners to use in direct work with children. I became fed up with using the same methods to engage with children and wanted to develop a resource which practitioners could use when trying to capture the child’s thoughts and feelings about specific issues. The chosen topic for this initial resource was domestic abuse.

The statistics of domestic abuse are truly shocking. Approximately 2 million people a year in the UK experience some form of domestic abuse (Office for National Statistics) with around 130,000 children living in homes where domestic abuse is a significant risk (Safe Lives). 62% of those children are directly harmed by the perpetrator (CAADA and Safe Lives). These statistics highlight a significant public health problem and more needs to be done to prevent abuse and address it. Charities and frontline services work tirelessly to support vulnerable families and children; however, the prevalence of abuse does not appear to change year-on-year, and with the current cost of living crisis placing increased strain and pressure on families, it is likely we will see a spike in referrals to social services once again.

Why is it that figures remain stagnant despite the fantastic work done in communities to prevent and intervene? How can we truly empower change? For me, it’s relatively simple. I believe that if we as professionals can engage children using their language and their lived experiences to enable other children to share their stories, then they and their families are more likely to access the support they need from services. And so ‘It’s ok to talk’ was developed with the first book in the series titled Joey. Reinforcing the message that breaking the silence is key to facilitating change.

I believe that if children have access to a resource that enables them to comment on what they read or see – and that is realistic and honest – then professionals are going to be more aware of what the circumstances are at home and provide appropriate, timely interventions.


“It’s Ok To Talk”

Joey is a small boy who lives at home with his mother and her boyfriend, where there is domestic abuse within their relationship. The story is written from his perspective where he talks about his emotions, and how his homelife is impacting him, whilst he combats the desire to speak up, yet keep things hidden from others in order to protect his family. This is sadly a tale most social workers know too well.

What is different to most children’s books, is that this book is designed to be read by the child and professional together. There are pages for reflection within the story where some open questions are asked as a guide to facilitate conversation and enable the child to consider their own narratives within the story and make sense of their own world in comparison to Joey’s.

In order to really encapsulate Joey’s voice, I recalled some of the conversations that I had with children where they have shared their experiences as well as gaining some feedback from children and young people in care about how they would feel if such a book was made available. It is because of these children that this book even exists, and it is there to help children access the right help and support.

One of the most challenging obstacles working in frontline services is that children often feel unable to speak up due to fear of family separation or getting their carers into trouble, leaving them lost without support and living in harm's way. This book really highlights the importance of speaking up and encourages the child to utilise and trust the professionals around them.

Engaging children using child friendly and relatable resources is a must to promote child-centred practice. I hope that this book will become a valued resource for professionals, even if it helps a handful of children to access support and live their lives free from harm through the many of the incredible services available in our communities, it would have achieved its purpose.

Paint on Face

Emily Hill is a Registered Social Worker. Books are available to purchase directly from Emily and are priced at £7.99 plus postage, with discounts for multiple copies. Please contact Emily for more information on safeguarding.cyp@gmail.com

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