By Ellie Turner, Kate Jobson and Julie Smith-Lewis
This year Division of Educational and Child Psychology (DECP) conference for trainee educational psychologists was online for the first time. So when we logged in at 9:15am sharp, there was no conference room to find and no babble of excited trainee educational psychologists glancing at pieces of paper, trying to find their way around. There was just us at our desks with a coffee and a laptop. This was our first conference as trainees, and although it was held remotely, we found it very engaging, and we came away with practical strategies to inform our practice. Of particular interest were several sessions that focused on the importance of gaining the child’s voice in our work.
Naomi Boswell (Year 3 trainee educational psychologist) focused on listening to children and young people through co-production. The key message we took away from this session was how important it is to create a safe space and show respect for the children and young people that we work with to gain their voice. Naomi provided some practical strategies that we can use as trainees to begin to work in a more collaborative way with children and young people in our daily practice. Introducing ourselves through One Page Profiles enables children and young people to make an informed decision about whether they want to work with us. Dressing more casually can make us appear more approachable, and, where possible, meeting with the young person before we meet with key adults can promote a child, rather than adult-led, agenda.
Children and Young People in Care
Dr. Sarah Wendland focused on the experiences of children and young people in care, and promoted the importance of allowing the child or young person to choose their own ‘supportive adult’ with whom to build a trusting and reciprocal relationship. This is particularly important, as young people in care may lack autonomy in key decisions in other aspects of their lives. Often, this will be the first opportunity that a child or young person has had to speak about their experiences with a trusted adult of their choosing. The process of talking about their experiences enables children and young people to explain what things are like for them using their own words. In doing so, they can make sense of and reflect on, their thoughts and feelings.
Listening to the Voice of Trans Young People
Dr. Annie McGowan presented her research on the views and experiences of trans young people in secondary school. The key findings emerging from her research were that trans young people want to feel accepted and validated for who they are, have the opportunity to be listened to and referred to by their choice of name/pronoun, thereby fostering a sense of belonging. As trainees we have a responsibility to advocate for trans children and young people, while empowering them to advocate for themselves. In addition, by working closely with secondary schools we can promote a positive whole-school ethos and a tailored school response to understand gender diversity. As Dr. McGowan concluded: “the only way to achieve happiness is to live your truth”.
Reflections on the Day
The 2021 DECP conference allowed us to reflect on our own practice, and develop new skills and knowledge in eliciting the child’s voice, both in person and via virtual platforms. We would like to thank all of the presenters for sharing their diverse experiences of gaining the views of children and young people in their work. Gaining the child’s voice is central to our work as trainee educational psychologists, and we will utilise the strategies learned in this conference in our future practice.
Ellie Turner, Kate Jobson and Julie Smith-Lewis are Year 1 trainees on the doctoral training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham