Table of Contents
Engaging Children and Youth
Staff should explain to the child, in an age and developmentally appropriate manner, that concern exists for the safety and wellbeing of the child and family and that other persons need to become involved to help the family.
It is important that children have an opportunity to talk about what they are worried about, what makes them happy, and what they would like to see happen in their family and community to keep them safe. Because of a desire to protect children from adult issues, they are often provided little information about what is happening to them and what the plan is for their future. Getting the children’s voice can help children feel they are part of the process, not just entirely having the process done to them. The children’s voice not only informs our work, it can be the most powerful voice to inspire and motivate change within the family. Capturing and sharing the voice of the child in a meaningful way can have a significant impact on their caregivers’ willingness to make desired changes to protect their children.
Signs of Safety provides several tools to capture the child’s voice regarding their experiences, to explain the Children’s Division’s involvement, and to involve them in safety planning. These tools include the Three Houses Tool, Fairy/Wizard Tool, and Words and Pictures explanations.
The Three Houses method was first created by Nicki Weld and Maggie Greening from Child Youth and Family, New Zealand, and is a practical method of undertaking child protection assessments with children and young people (Weld, 2008). The My Three Houses tool takes the original method and simplifies it to make it more usable for practitioners. It matches the three key assessment questions of Signs of Safety assessment and planning – What are we worried about? What’s working well? and What needs to happen? – and locates them visually within three houses to better engage children in the conversation.
Steps for using the Three Houses tool adapted from Chapter 4 of the Signs of Safety Workbook include:
- Wherever possible, inform the parents / caregivers of the need to interview the children, explain the three houses process to them and obtain permission to interview the children.
- Make a decision whether to work with the child with or without their parents / caregivers present.
- Explain the Three Houses to the child using one sheet of paper per house. The children need to understand that everyone wants them to feel safe – we are all trying to figure out the best way to do that.
- Give the child a sense of control over the interview by offering lots of choices (write or draw, colors or colored pencils, starting with the House of Worries or the House of Good Things, etc.). It’s often best to explore the House of Dreams last so that the House of Worries and House of Good Things can be used as a reference point.
- Once finished, obtain permission of the child to show the Three Houses to others: parents, extended family, and professionals. Ask how the three houses can be shared; do they want to talk about it, have you talk about it, or talk about it together.
- Address any safety issues for the child in presenting the Three Houses to others. Present the finished Three Houses to the parents/caregivers, usually beginning with ‘house of good things’.
- When you scale the children on how safe they feel, remember you may need to use physical objects to represent the goal posts, such as a football field, baseball diamond, or another analogy appropriate to their developmental level that will help them connect to the concept.
The Fairy/Wizard tool, created by Western Australian child protection practitioner Vania Da Paz, is a variation of the Three Houses tool. The focus remains on what worries the child, what is good in their lives, and what would they like to see or have happen. The tool can be used to engage with parents and members of the safety network to understand, from a child’s perspective, how their behaviors/circumstances are impacting the child.
Steps for using the Fairy/Wizard tool include:
- Introduce the Fairy and/or Wizard to the child by beginning with a blank Fairy/Wizard tool and asking the child whether they want to use the fairy or the wizard.
- Once the figure is drawn, the worker can explain: (a) the Fairy/Wizard is very special as it is their ‘own’ Fairy/Wizard; and (b) has a very important job to help the worker get to know the child a little better
- Explain to the child that the Fairy/Wizard’s clothes are where we write the child’s worries/problems and what they wish they could change (“…in the same way that we can change our clothes when they get dirty or we don’t like what we are wearing”)
- Once children have exhausted their responses, you can provide cues to children by utilizing the questioning approach.
- The Fairy’s wings and the Wizard’s cape represent the good things in the child’s life, what they are happy with, or what allows them to ‘escape’ the things they are not happy about.
- On the Fairy’s star and the Wizard’s spell bubble, the worker and the child record the child’s wishes.
- The wands allow the children to picture/visualize what their life would look like if the family’s problems were resolved. The picture can be a very powerful image to share with parent(s) to allow them to reflect on how the family’s life could be and to commence to build hope that things could change and improve.
- It is essential to have the buy-in from the child in the process, by ensuring that the child feels some ownership of the final product. Ways to achieve this may include:
- Give the child the option to write their own responses in the various areas of the drawing.
- If writing the child’s responses, ensure that you are writing exactly what the child has said in the child’s words.
- Give the child the option to draw on the paper (perhaps the background for the Fairy/Wizard) or color it in and/or decorate it with items such as glitter. This can assist the child to feel that this is their special Fairy/Wizard.
In order to reinforce the child’s ownership of the drawing and any accompanying information, it is important to discuss with the child what will be happening with the drawing. Explain that a copy will be put in the file and the drawing will be shown to the child’s parents and any other relevant person involved in the case.
Words and Pictures is a process for explanation about serious concerns to children and involves the use of words and pictures that the child understands. This process is useful anytime child protection is involved in a child’s life but is especially critical for children who have been brought into care.
The Words and Pictures tool serves multiple purposes. First, the Words and Pictures tool is used to provide children an age-appropriate explanation of the agency’s involvement. Second, the Words and Pictures tool can be used in a similar way to explain the safety plan to children in a way that will be understandable to them. Third, the Words & Pictures process can be used to provide children with a chronological story of their journey when a permanency decision has been made. Some of the benefits to developing a Words and Pictures tool include that it:
- Takes the complexity of the plan developed with the adults and simplifies it into words and pictures that everyone can understand;
- Gives parents and network members an opportunity to think through how to talk to children about the safety plan;
- Asks parents to view the safety plan from their child’s perspective;
- Is a visual reminder of the safety plan rules; and
- Provides common language for everyone so the children can be involved in assessing how well the safety plan is working.
Steps in the Process of completing a Words and Pictures:
- Explain the process to parents and professionals. Take time to explain the purpose of Words and Pictures, including what to expect.
- Draft and amend. Following the initial session with the parents, the first draft of the Words is created. The Pictures will be added after the story is complete.
- Get agreement. The participating adults will be expected to formally agree to the final version before it can be shown to the children. In some cases where there is disagreement with the final version, staff may include both versions of events in the narrative.
- Present the Words and Pictures to the children. The completed Words and Pictures is introduced to the children, who should be allowed to read it themselves if they wish.