Effective Communication - Postgraduate
Effective communication underpins all social work intervention. Because of their previous studies, students should already be able to demonstrate that they can communicate effectively with peers and make formal presentations; however they will require specific teaching on the differences in communicating with children and adults. While some skills are transferable, some areas of communication will be new to students. For example, it is unlikely that a science/engineering graduate will have studied how children communicate and some students will require significant input. All students will need to show knowledge of and demonstrate good listening and communication skills (including verbal and non-verbal communication). As the SSSC Codes of Practice notes social workers should communicate in an "appropriate, open, accurate and straightforward way" (2003, 2.2).
Prior to their first practice learning opportunity, students will be required to demonstrate that they understand the purpose of communicating with children, young people, their parents and carers. They will also need to demonstrate that they have the required skills in order to do this effectively on their practice learning opportunity. One way that this may be assessed is by recording videos of students in role play which are assessed by tutors and service user representatives. During their practice learning opportunity, students will be assessed on their ability to engage and relate effectively and form and maintain working relationships based on honesty and partnership.
Students need to demonstrate that they have a clear understanding that children may convey their experiences using verbal and non-verbal indicators. Through their behaviour or their presentation a child may be communicating their needs and conveying their experiences. Therefore in order to assess accurately students need to have a good knowledge of child development and an awareness of the importance of observing children. Students need to demonstrate that they can use both verbal and non-verbal cues to guide interpretation of behaviour and help assess risk. One way to describe this is "listening with your eyes". Tutors and practice teachers should make explicit links between the material on child development and the skills required to communicate with children.
Students will be required to demonstrate that they can use a range of communication skills to both elicit and analyse relevant information.
Students need to show that they can transfer their written skills to child care and protection work, and need to demonstrate that they can accurately record relevant information in a manner which is easily understood. For example, HEIs might adopt a baseline that if written material is not of a standard which would be acceptable to a Children's Hearing or a Sheriff Court then it is not acceptable to the university.
The need for clear unambiguous communication, and their responsibility to communicate effectively (including the appropriate sharing of information with children, young people, parents, carers, peers and other professionals) should be explicit in the teaching and assessment. We recommend that practice teachers and tutors make clear links to the limitations in communication mentioned by Inquiry Reports. We recommend that relevant reports and Guidance (For example, Protecting Children - A Shared Responsibility , 1998) should be required reading for students. Students could demonstrate that they have critically appraised the messages from inquiry reports in their learning log.
Students need to be able to demonstrate that they can communicate effectively to a range of audiences using appropriate methods. Students might role play how they would explain their assessment, that for his/her needs to be met, a child needs alternative long-term care, to:
- 6 year old child
- A parent who has been defined as having learning difficulties
- A Child Protection Case Conference
At the point of qualifying students need to show that they can communicate effectively in group situations (for example Case Conference) within their own agency and across other relevant disciplines.
Students will be required to demonstrate that they have appropriate knowledge and skills in communicating with children and their parents/carers where English is not the first language or where the primary form of communication is non-verbal. Students need to demonstrate knowledge of their responsibilities and competence in transferring this responsibility to their practice.
For students who are not in a practice learning opportunity where they have direct contact with children, we recommend that they have the opportunity to be allocated or co-work a case involving a child or a parent. Some HEIs have child observation, and while this is a good foundation, at the point of qualifying students should have done more than observe a child. They should have had the opportunity to undertake an assessment of a child's circumstances and "offer professional level insights, interpretations and solutions" (Level 10, SCQF, 2003).