Communication skills during the COVID-19 pandemic
Communicating with children
Interviewing children is one of the primary ways to assess their protection risks and other needs. It allows children to provide information that will help decide on actions to support them. Any communication with children should be carried out in a way that is child friendly, age appropriate and gender sensitive.
Any caseworker responsible for interviewing a child should be aware of the sensitivities this involves. The integrity, skills and abilities of staff to communicate with children will directly affect the quality, safety and outcomes of any interventions for a child. Caseworkers must be appropriately trained on safe, child friendly interviewing and communication skills.
Who, when and where?
It is necessary to carefully plan any interviews with children at risk that have been assigned a caseworker. During the COVID-19 pandemic this may take additional thought and planning on ways to overcome any challenges including:
- Where to conduct the interview – if it is possible to safely meet with a child face to face, it should be a location that also provides the child with a sense of security and privacy so that the child to talk freely
- Who participates in the interview - for example, if the child is very young and/or is a child that needs assistance from a trusted adult, who might that be?
- What is the best time for the child - for example, caregivers may have adopted a daily routine for learning, play etc. which should not be disrupted
- If you are interviewing more than one child in the same setting, how to make sure you can interview them separately
- Before an interview with a child, think carefully about the information you need to collect – consider what you already know and if there is anything you need to re-confirm
- When you contact a child clearly explain to them the purpose of the interview. If you are setting up a remote interview because of COVID-19, you can explain to the child the reason for this.
It is important to consult a child about their preference about how and where and when to conduct an interview whilst taking into account any guidance regarding local safety procedures.
Child-friendly communication - age appropriate and a gender sensitive approach
Child-friendly communication means speaking in a way that children understand. It means thinking carefully about how to communicate with them taking into account their age, maturity, gender, special needs etc. In addition:
- Always communicate and respond in a caring and trusting manner - and truly listen to a child
- Provide a child with all the information they need to make decisions in a manner appropriate to their age and other capacities always using appropriate words and language
- Do everything possible to avoid anything that could stigmatise, frighten or endanger a child - during the COVID-19 pandemic also consider what will happen if a child becomes upset but you are not there in person to support them etc.
- Understand, respect and be sensitive to such aspects of a child’s life as personal history, family relations and cultural, religious and social background
- Be aware that children may find it difficult to express or accurately describe or share their feelings. They may place importance or remember things in a different way to adults
- Think about using methods of communication that are appropriate for the age and capacities of the child - for example ways to talk, or use of drawings etc.
- Remember to let a child know you will respect confidentiality and only share personal information about them with others who need the information in order to support and protect them
- Take time to answer any questions a child may have and at the end of a meeting confirm that they understand what will happen next.
When a caseworker is assigned to a child, and preparing to interview a child, the child’s gender should be taken into consideration. The child’s own preference to the caseworker’s gender, whether this is a woman or a man, should be sought at the beginning of the case management process. Think about how this may be necessary to respect the cultural context of the child. Caseworkers should be sensitive to, and understand, diverse gender identities and expressions. In any step of communicating with children, caseworkers should have empathy whilst being objective and should not have opinions that are in any way discriminatory.
Also think about the professional and child-friendly skills of any interpreter you use. During COVID-19, it may be difficult to mobilise interpreters quickly. However, all efforts must be made to identify the most qualified and trained interpreter. Whether interviews are done face-to-face or remotely, it is important that interpreters are assigned on the basis of gender and cultural considerations.
The ‘See Also’ section below has links to other reading material that other agencies have produced.