Communication skills in child protection: How do social workers talk to parents?

TitleCommunication skills in child protection: How do social workers talk to parents?
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsForrester, D, Kershaw, S, Moss, H, Hughes, L
JournalChild and Family Social Work
Publication Languageeng
ISBN Number1356750013652206

Communication skills are fundamental to social work practice, yet there is little research on the skills that workers have or how they use them. This study analyses 24 taped interviews between social workers and an actor playing a parent (a 'simulated client'). Two child protection scenarios with different levels of seriousness were used. On average, social workers asked many closed questions and often raised concerns. They used few reflections and rarely identified positives. In all but one interview, social workers were rated as achieving clarity over issues of concern; however, they tended to demonstrate low levels of empathy. The responses of the simulated client were rated for resistance and information disclosure. The factor that most strongly influenced simulated client responses was empathy. Empathic social workers created less resistance and increased the amount of information disclosed by clients. This was not associated with failure to identify and discuss concerns. Empathy, therefore, appears to be central to good social work communication in child protection situations. Given the comparatively low level of empathy expressed by most participants, development of skills in maintaining empathic communication while raising child protection concerns appears a priority. Practical, theoretical and training implications are discussed.

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