When I signed up for the ‘Communicating with Children’ training workshops, I was barely six months into my social work career. Having qualified back in 2016, I expected a course structured much like any other; provision of information by experts to the comparatively uninitiated, perhaps with some slideshows, group exercises and activities to stave off “death by Powerpoint”. Even for particularly good training courses I had enrolled on previously, it felt like my lack of experience could at times cause difficulty connecting to the source material and applying it to my own practice, meaning that while I could appreciate and make use of most information provided sometimes the best I could hope for was an epiphanic “so that’s what they were talking about” when I was finally confronted with certain scenarios in practice.
After just one session with the “Communicating with Children” group, I felt that they had managed to create something which transcended this potentially dry and impersonal structure and instead provided an experience which was informative, targeted and relevant, made all the more impressive by the fact that each session was merely two hours in length (coffee break included). I feel that this was less about trying to mastermind something earth-shattering, ground-breaking and likely to change the face of practice as we knew it forever, but rather taking things back to basics and allowing workers access to something that should be uncomplicated and readily available; a safe space to share thoughts, experiences, academic sources and (perhaps most importantly) fears, worries and past failures.
During a number of group sessions, I waxed lyrical about all manner of challenging circumstances, dilemmas and hardships I faced during my short time on the job, while colleagues and trainers alike listened patiently. Often, these exchanges did not yield solutions to problems or any sense of feeling any further forward in a practical sense, but inevitably in having talked them through and shared my journey with my fellows I felt lighter, happier and even enriched. Sharing those feelings with other people who could appreciate what I was going through was immensely powerful, and each time I did it I became more confident and more emboldened. Equally, the opportunity to share positive practice and outcomes provided a real sense of worth in the work that we have done and will continue to do with children moving forward, outside of the hustle and bustle of a busy and sometimes stifling office environment.
The articles and video materials were interesting, the conversation was thought-provoking and the provision of biscuits and muffins during sessions did a lot to enhance the experience! However, what these sessions achieved quite simply and effectively was bringing together a whole host of workers from different backgrounds, experience levels and personalities under a clear and common goal: making lives better for children. The simplicity of the interactions between professionals and the trust and respect that was shown highlighted for me an ultimate truth: with service users and professionals alike, the importance of being listened to and acknowledged cannot be overstated and it is through such interactions that the real work can be done.
Alex Gunn, April 2017