Introducing ourselves to children and young people: what they want to know
International treaties and current UK legislation outline the requirement for professionals to actively involve and ‘hear’ children and young people (CYP) when discussing matters affecting them (UN, 1989; Children and Families Act, 2014).
Participatory methods and training to be an EP
The SEND Code of Practice (2015) stipulates the need for participatory methods to be embedded within practice. Research has shown that educational psychologists (EPs) recognise the importance for children and young people of having agency over their own lives (Mameli et al., 2019).
It was a lecture back in my first year of training, as I sat and was presented with a one-page profile (OPP), that made me question whether EPs do what they think they do. It dawned upon me that throughout my time as an assistant educational psychologist, I had spent very little time even considering what it must be like for any young person I had met to be taken out of lesson – sometimes without any preparation at all – to come and ‘play games’ with me, a strange woman who asks lots of questions about their life.
Fast forward to being a third year trainee, I have recently carried out research as part of my thesis which looked to co-produce the educational psychology service (EPS) across two local authorities in line with the views and wishes of CYP within that authority.
Coproduction in a local authority: one page profiles
Part of this research involved discussions about how children want EPs to introduce themselves. All children from this research felt that an EP having a One Page Profile (OPP) sent to them in advance of the meeting was a good idea. They talked about the need for the OPP to be adapted to different age groups with profiles being more colourful for younger children and less colourful and fewer pictures for older students.
As part of the EPS development, all EPs were asked to create a OPP. It is important to mention here that not everyone was on board with the idea completely. Concerns were raised about whether a profile might ‘blur’ the boundaries of the professional relationship and whether it would set the expectation of long-term involvement with children. What was fascinating though was that by the end of the year, every EP who took part in the research felt that their OPP had had a positive impact and was something that was sustainable, reporting that children were engaged and rapport was built more easily.
I am now completing my final placement at Lancashire County Council (LCC). We have recently built on this aspect of my thesis research by creating a working group to look at how we can help all professionals within the Inclusion Service be more accessible to children.
Finding out what young people want
This led me to working with an existing Lancashire participation group of young people with SEND called POWAR. They do amazing work with Lancashire services to support them to be more child and young person friendly. I wasn’t prepared for what a fantastic couple of hours I was in for when we met via Zoom and they shared with me what is important to them when meeting a professional.
As you will see from their ideas in figure 1, the children highlighted the importance of knowing who professionals were as a person and having a ‘getting to know you’ conversation before delving into the “deep stuff”.
Figure 1 illustrates some of the valid questions they had. I showed example OPPs for different professionals including EPs, special educational need and disability co-ordinators and specialist teachers, all designed for different age ranges. They shared how they liked the use of colour for different sections, being told when they were meeting the professional and having an email or mobile phone number detailed which they could text if they had questions or if they did not want to meet.
One young person shared the importance of the latter and how it made it very clear the child had a choice, demonstrating the professional cared about what they thought. POWAR spoke of the need for One Page Profiles to be accessible to children and shared widely using the Local Offer, posters in schools and social media.
Creativity during coronavirus and remote working
Since the national ‘lockdown’ in March this year, EPs have had to adapt how they work. This has meant many additional considerations about how we can ensure that contact with an EP is a pleasant experience for CYP.
It is clear from the buzz on twitter that #twittereps have been using this time to develop their One Page Profiles (here’s one of my own examples) to enhance relationships with children and make that first meeting just a little bit less daunting. The ideas about sharing pictures of yourself with and without a mask, creating virtual classrooms and Bitmojis has shown how creative and adaptable our profession can be.
Perhaps this is a time when services can really begin to think about how they work with children and young people in the long term in an effort to gain feedback about how we work with them. Within Lancashire, all professionals within the Inclusion Service are now working to develop their One Page Profile and it is hoped that by January 2021 no child will meet a professional without knowing beforehand something about who they are and why they are meeting them. We hope to get feedback from children and professionals, to look at what the impact is for them of seeing our OPP prior to meeting us.
I hope that through this blog post the EP community and other professionals can begin to share practice around how they include CYP in their development of services.