Communicating with Children: Making a difference
Michelle Lefevre Policy Press 2010 244 pages 18.99 [pounds sterling]
In this nicely presented and clearly set out practice guide, part of BASW's Social Work in Practice series, Michelle Lefevre demonstrates that she is a good communicator herself: her prose is lucid and readable and the book is easily accessible for the social work student or busy child care practitioner. It has a strongly practical rather than theoretical bias, with helpful advice based on real-life experience. The text is broken up with tables, charts and diagrams to illustrate its points, and is liberally sprinkled with quotations from real children. The author encourages a reflective approach in the reader through the use of exercises and case vignettes, which, while occasionally simplistic, are always pertinent. Some of these are helpfully developed in greater depth to make their points more clearly. Suggestions for further reading follow each chapter and the book concludes with a full bibliography and comprehensive index.
After providing a brief overview of the history of attitudes to listening to children, Lefevre sensibly concludes that it is a false dichotomy to argue that an approach grounded in an understanding of child development and a commitment to children's rights are mutually exclusive; rather, best practice should combine elements from both psychological and sociological paradigms. Little attention is given to law or policy on listening to children, on the grounds that these will vary from country to country. However, Lefevre does look in detail at what children and young people themselves say about how they prefer professionals to communicate with them, summarising research findings in useful tables.
Lefevre situates communication with children and young people firmly in a relationship-based model of social work, asserting that practitioners' personal qualities and emotional availability are central to effective communication. An in-depth discussion of the meaning and process of communication challenges the reader to question common-place assumptions about language. There is an analysis of what makes for communicative competence: again it is stressed that 'use of self' is as important as technical skill. Detailed advice is provided on working with children of different ages, with a range of disabilities, and from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, including asylum-seekers and refugees.