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‘Helping children is a human process’: researching the challenges social workers face in communicating with children

journal contribution
posted on 2023-06-08, 15:07 authored by Gillian RuchGillian Ruch
Research studies and inquiry reports in the UK have consistently highlighted children's wishes for social workers to demonstrate honesty, reliability and continuity in their relationships with them. Despite this awareness, social workers continue to struggle to exhibit these qualities. The literature on social workers' communication with children portrays it as a complex, partial and fragmented aspect of practice, with a lack of research that directly explores how social workers communicate with children. This paper reports on a ‘practice near’ research project, informed by psycho-dynamic, systemic and ecological approaches to social work practice in general and to communication in particular. The project involved social workers participating in reflective case discussions that explored their experiences of working with children and identified the obstacles to and opportunities for child-centred communication. The findings highlight how practitioners' commitment to child-centred practice was constrained by contextual factors relating to the physical, relational and emotional dimensions of practice. The paper concludes with key recommendations to enhance child-centred responses to the unpredictable and uncomfortable realities of practice. These recommendations make an important contribution to dialogues across national settings about child-centred approaches in contexts where home-based working is a central feature of practice.


Publication status

  • Published


British Journal of Social Work




Oxford University Press





Page range


Department affiliated with

  • Social Work and Social Care Publications

Full text available

  • No

Peer reviewed?

  • Yes

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