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This content is taken from the University of Strathclyde & CELCIS's online course, Caring for Vulnerable Children. Join the course to learn more.
Woman talks with worried child


Whether a communication is ‘good’ depends on how it is received in the situation and what is conveyed to the other person. A skilful communication enhances the other person’s experience and their ability to respond and participate.

Communication between a social worker or another social care professional and a child or young person will be influenced by the context in which it occurs. By the context we refer to environments such as the home, a hospital or a similar residential setting, etc. This means that we need to take different issues into consideration depending on the environment that we are in and the client group that we are engaging with. This makes effective preparation for each contact with a service user a priority.

It is important to realise that even though you may be good at talking and listening, or you think you are good at being a friend to others, social work communication skills are different in that they require a professional understanding of communication. These skills do not necessarily come naturally. You have to learn, develop and practice them. They are different, or extended, from those acquired through life experience and development.

Research has established that first meetings have a lasting emotional impact on service users and therefore are a significant stage in engaging service users in processes of help and change towards achieving that elusive state of ‘partnership working’. It is therefore essential for the social worker to develop skills to (a) prepare for meeting the service user; and (b) achieve a shared understanding of the purpose, nature and process of the social work to follow.

The skill of preparing oneself for communication with a service user to respond to his or her concerns can be described as ‘tuning in’. In much the same way as one might block out all other noise and listen intently in order to tune in a radio station, so the social worker needs to spend quiet time focusing on the concerns the service user might bring to the communication and the ways he or she might communicate those concerns. The aim is to achieve empathy with the concerns of the service user. Empathy is widely regarded as referring to the act of recognising what another person is feeling.

The sources in the ‘See Also’ section below were used when creating this week’s materials - you can consult them for more information on the topic.

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This article is from the free online course:

Caring for Vulnerable Children

University of Strathclyde