Family support, is available as a means of prevention and early intervention as outlined in the UNCRC. This is also explored in several publications, Our Children and Young People-Our shared Responsibility (SSI/DHSSPSNI 2006), Families Matter, Supporting Families in Northern Ireland (DS 2009) and Aiming High for Children: Supporting Families (DIE 2007). The tragic death of Victoria Climbie in 2000 invoked much criticism for the lack of communication between agencies and departments and between social workers and children. In the Inquiry Report (Cm 5730, 2003) Laming placed direct contact with children at the heart of social work assessment and keeping children safe. Article 12 of the UNCRC (Child friendly version) instructs children that;
‘You have the right to say what you think and you must be listened to.’
The family is made up of S and three children, daughter aged 18 and two boys aged 5. Previous to this referral the family had not been known to social services or to the voluntary organisation my placement is in. I have spoken to my team manager, the health visitor and also to S, the mother of the family. It has been jointly agreed that the focus of the family support role will be therapeutic work with the two boys, M & N. This is a new challenge for me as I have no experience of direct work with children.
Tuning in . . .
I have concentrated on tuning into theories that are established and have an evidence base to support their appropriateness for working with 5 year old boys. An understanding of child development theory will allow me to appreciate the emotional, cognitive, social and educational growth that starts from conception and continues into early adulthood. Although each child is a unique individual there are developmental markers or building blocks that are common to nearly all children. I will need to understand these ‘markers’ to gain some insight into ‘where’ the two boys ‘should be developmentally at the age of 5. Concerns have been raised by the school regarding the reading and speech abilities of the M & N. S has told me that she is worried about this but does not know what to do about it. I am aware that development stages are not an accurate science, they merely provide a good indication of progress (Webster- Stratton 2006). I will reassure S by explaining this but will also attend to the possibility that if additional expertise is required I can signpost to the appropriate service. S may then appreciate that her concerns are not being minimised and that if a specialist assessment is required, there is support for this also. I have found several research articles which promote important learning in the speech development of twins (Freidman 2008). It has been found that twins will often be assessed as slower readers and have a lower count of words as they may not be exposed to the same level of adult communication as singletons. It was hypothesised that came this comes from each twin learning from each other rather than from an adult. The reason for this is unclear however it may be that parents communicate less with young twins as they can be seen as a unit rather than as individual children. This hypothesis fits well with Bandura’s social learning theory. This theory explains that children learn new behaviours by observing other people. Bandura believed that people could learn skills and knowledge from internal reinforcements such as a sense of pride and accomplishment. In contrast, behavioural theorists such as Watson, Skinner and Pavlov focus only on observable behaviours, believing that development occurs as a result of responses to external stimuli. Rewards, punishment or reinforcement determine the response. The pattern of reinforcement then affects the acquisition of new behaviour. Piaget was the first to recognise that children are active participants in their own learning. He suggested that children think differently from adults and are not capable of logic or abstract thinking until the age of 11 or 12. Knowledge is gained hands on by experimentation and testing – what we call play. At 5 a child should be able to use symbols but requires concrete situations to solve problems, so blocks, games or colouring pens are appropriate (Nicholson et al 2006).
My plan is to blend these theories to create a form of play that promotes internal accomplishments (Bandura), reinforces appropriate behaviour with rewards (Skinner) and does so through hands on tasks or play (Piaget). S will be encouraged to interact with the play presenting me with the opportunity to identify any attachment issues. Bowlby’s attachment theory describes relationships with others as "lasting psychological connectedness between human beings" (Bowlby, 1969, p. 194). It places great importance on the influence that childhood experiences have on development and later behaviour.
Combined with a person centred approach towards S this will form a solution focused support strategy for the family.
I have no means by which to position myself as a five year old boy, or to comprehend the intricacy or closeness of a young twin relationship. I can, however remember what it was like to be 5 – adults were like a different species, huge, old with smart clothes, always concerned with unimportant things like spellings, work or vegetables. I have taken from my own memories of childhood that I will wear casual clothes, position myself at eye level with the boys whenever it is feasible to and not talk about work or vegetables (Sheafor and Horejsi 2003). I have had a very close relationship with my nieces and nephews since their births so requested their input as to why, as children, they had liked me. I was told that I was fun, I seemed to enjoy them, always listened to them and had story time for them. This has somewhat alleviated my concerns as to how to communicate with children. Jones (2003) for Barnardos identifies the core skills for communication as being able to listen, convey genuine interest, empathetic concern, warmth, understanding and respect for each child. The boys are often referred to as a single unit ‘the twins’, I am mindful that each is an independent, unique child in his own right. How the boys might perceive me is hard to fathom. They could see me as a teacher who visits or a strange adult who just likes to play games. Although S had requested support she may be apprehensive or nervous, not knowing what to expect. While she has made a move towards change in their family life, she may be reluctant to discuss painful or embarrassing situations. I understand this completely, inviting a stranger to help you with your own children could be perceived by some as a weakness. I see a stressed single mum juggling to raise two active boys and trying to hold down a job - who just needs a bit of help. As we all do from time to time. This tuning-in will allow me to let S identify her own priorities and enable me to recognise any incongruence within her statements and body language (Shulman 2005).
Couroyer (2000) communicates social work as involving the conscious and deliberate use of one self as the medium through which knowledge, attitudes and skills are transferred. Workers who are aware of how their own beliefs, values, appearance, attitude and behaviours impact on the service user, can choose how to positively influence the relationship they are involved in. When working at this level of awareness the practitioner can integrate theory into a practical solution by understanding concepts such as attachment disorder (Thompson 2010).