Back at you: feeding back to children and young people

By Preeya Chibbra

As a first-year trainee educational psychologist, I take a lot of inspiration from the professional community. One example of this is using one-page profiles as a way of introducing ourselves to children and young people before we begin working with them. I was interested in how these may be used in a reciprocal way. I did this by creating a summary report for a pupil in a similar format to the one-page profile, to mirror the one I had sent them. This represented the voices of the child, parent and school staff in a way that was accessible and engaging for the pupil. It also informed them of the next steps and recommendations I had made from the piece of work. Using one-page profiles in this way reflects their original purpose: to summarise important information about children and young people in a person-centred way. This is one example of how we can feedback to the children who we work with and promote their involvement.

My experience

When I had the opportunity on placement to complete direct casework, albeit virtually, I was excited to send my own profile to the school so that they could share it with the pupil before we met. I also found myself thinking, “how can we use this in a more reciprocal way?”. When reflecting on this piece of work with my placement supervisor, we discussed how to use the one-page profile to feedback to pupils within a report.

After meeting with the child, their parent and school staff, I used the one-page profile format to briefly summarise everyone’s views. I also included a short overview of the recommendations from this piece of work, so that the pupil knew what the next steps were. I aimed to keep the summary report strengths-based, and used colour and visuals to make it more engaging. I sent my full report to the parent and school, alongside the summarised report for them to share and discuss with the pupil. The pupil was happy to get their own one-page profile as a visual representation of what we had talked about when we met.

Why is this important?

Using the one-page profile in a reciprocal way to feedback to children and young people means we can check that we have understood the views they expressed. It also shows that we have listened to these views by capturing the exact phrases used by the child or young person. This can help them to feel that their contribution has been heard, valued and taken seriously into consideration – a principle specified in Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989).

This also reflected conversations that were currently happening within my placement service around who we write reports for and how to make this information more accessible for all audiences. Referring to principles in the Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of Practice, it is important for educational psychologists to promote participation of children and young people in their work. Providing a report that the pupil can read could help them to feel more involved in the process.

 What next?

Moving forward, I will continue to build the one-page profile into my practice to promote the involvement of the individual I am working with. It would also be interesting to hear about other ways that professionals feedback to children and young people in accessible ways. Through discussions with colleagues during my placement and at university, it is clear that educational psychologists already use a variety of methods to represent the voice of the child. This can include writing letters or postcards to the young person to summarise their involvement. However, it is also important to consider time constraints for the casework that educational psychologists undertake. Once a template has been created with the required headings, this could be a way to efficiently create a child-friendly summary report.

Preeya is a Year 1 trainee on the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

Listening to the Child’s Voice: Reflections from the DECP TEP Conference 2021

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.

Co-production

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

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Reflections on my first year of training as an educational psychologist

By Dawn Dance

Finding our more about the role

In my previous working life I had never met an educational psychologist despite working for nearly ten years in a Post 16 and secondary school setting. As part of my application I had the chance to talk to some educational psychologists and to read about the role but I struggled to make sense of what that meant in practice. Being on the course and my placements has shaped my understanding of the role of an educational psychologist. Here I want to share some of the key aspects of my learning during my first year of training.

Early Days

During my first weeks of lectures I began to realise that educational psychologists don’t just do tests! I was introduced to dynamic assessment and other models that offer alternative ways to gather information to help me to connect with and understand a child or young person. This is important to me, because some children and young people just don’t ‘do’ tests (there’s a reason why we’re advocating for them). I can see that some tests might have a role in educational psychology practice, but they don’t have to be the first port of call.

When I started my first placement I was concerned about needing to appear to have all of the answers to hand (I do wonder if some of my ideas might have stemmed from other professionals’ perception of educational psychologists). My first placement supervisor (in particular) helped me to understand that my strategies don’t all have to work as  that I can re-visit them. This was a great relief!

Other Reflections on my Learning

Communication: One thing I quickly realised is the necessity of being observant and a good communicator! Communication underpins the role of the educational psychologists, who must connect very quickly with people from all backgrounds and professions.

Consultation: Before my first placement, I imagined consultation as having a ‘chat’, but have since discovered that consultation isn’t just a series of conversations, it’s purposeful. It’s structured and designed to gather information that will help to think about the problem that has been raised.

Problem solving: This concept spans multiple contexts and the use of frameworks for practice are recommended for trainees (the Interactive Factors Framework is a favourite tool of mine to use). This is to help them to consider all aspects of the systems that sit around the child. The more I use the frameworks, the more it helps me to intentionally reflect on what I’ve observed and heard.

Voice of the Child: I’ve always considered the voice of the child to be important to my practice and quickly realised that a person-centred approach is paramount to the EP role. The role of the educational psychologist is to ensure that the voice of the child is woven through the assessment process and reflexively checking that the child’s or adult gatekeeper’s voice permeates every part of our work.

Training: I had the opportunity to train local authority employees in the use of applied psychology and this was a great feeling. Firstly, because if they apply what they learned we are able make a difference to the lives of the children and young people that they support. Secondly, we’re demonstrating our commitment, as outlined in the SEND Code of Practice (2015) to working with other professionals.

Research: I was able to contribute to a small-scale study investigating the evolving role of EPs in a local authority service during COVID-19. This is intended to inform future practice in the service and has shown me how educational psychologists can be part of influencing systemic change.

Final thoughts

My experiences in Year 1 of the training course have given ‘life’ to the picture that I had in my head about what an educational psychologist does. I’ve begun to realise that we have the capacity to work holistically, from an individual to systemic level, so that all children and young people can benefit from our applied psychology.

An educational psychologist has many tools that they can use to promote children’s development and learning, but how this is done is very much a professional and personal decision. To quote Shakespeare: “This above all: to thine own self be true”. and my newly acquired understanding of the educational psychologist has given me the opportunity to do so.

Dawn is a Year 2 trainee on the initial training course at the University of Birmingham.

 

 

Social Media: understanding the experiences of children and young people

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

By Joanne Mumford

On Friday 8th November, 2019, the University of Birmingham hosted a 3-cohort day for trainees on the initial training course for educational psychologists. The focus was on social media and how it is used by children and young people with whom we work. It concluded with a discussion around how educational psychologists can support schools, families and children and young people themselves to use the internet, and particularly social media, in a safe and effective way.

Dr Anna Lavis began the day talking about her research, which explored the use of social media for young people experiencing episodes of self-harm. The relationship between online self-harm and social media is highly contested, with little known about why those who self-harm might use social media, what they post online and why? There are also differences between different social media platforms that are used in different ways.

To try and find out more about this, Anna explored the views of young people who currently, or previously, had used self-harm as a coping strategy, and the ways in which the use of a social media platform linked to this.  She found that a key theme of the use of social media for those who self-harmed was how it was used for peer support. Users offered hope and companionship to others at times when they felt alone and isolated. Anna suggested that we need to find ways to create an environment where young people do not feel shamed, defeated or punished for self-harming. We need to be able to have open and non-judgemental conversations, where self-harm is recognised as a coping strategy for deeper difficulties, which need additional exploration and support.

Next, we were joined by Rebecca Tigue, Deputy Principal of the University of Birmingham School, who talked about the positive and negative impact of social media within secondary school settings. She gave an overview of how the University of Birmingham school curriculum seeks to develop responsible cyber-citizenship. Rebecca highlighted the risks of social media, including cyber-bullying, ‘screen time’, immediacy and constant connection associated with online communication, social media ‘friendships’, and the impacts of social media on sleep, amongst others.

Rebecca told us that work with their pupils also highlighted the benefits which young people gained from the internet and social media, including advice gained online, inspirational talks, homework and group chats, the ability to stay socially connected and access to resources online. As social media is an integral part of most young people’s lives, and it is for us, as professionals, to look at how we can support and encourage this in a ‘healthy’ way.

In the afternoon, Zoe Capper, a trainee educational psychologist at the University of Birmingham, described some research she has completed as part of her placement. Zoe collected the experiences of children and young people in order to develop training for school staff on social media and mental health. Zoe found that young people demonstrated an awareness of how to stay safe online, such as the dangers of talking to strangers online and keeping profiles and personal information private. The young people also highlighted their desire to be able to talk to school staff, parents and supportive adults about things that have happened online, without being dismissed, shamed, or judged for their use of social media.

This led to some lively discussions between the trainee educational psychologists about our own work. Although training is something that we are well equipped to deliver, we felt that the young people with whom we work are the experts in the field of social media. It therefore seems sensible to utilise their experiences when talking about social media, placing their voice at the centre of what we do in terms of looking at social media use. We can use this knowledge to support schools and families to promote the use of social media in a positive way, whilst being aware of the dangers associated with this and how to manage them. Whether we like it or not, social media is embedded in the lives of our young people; many of them will have not experienced a life without it and we need to take this into account in our work with young people.

Jo is a trainee educational psychologist currently in Year 2 of the initial training course for educational psychologists at the University of Birmingham.

Further guidance for schools on the impact of social media on health and well-being  from researchers at the University of Birmingham can be found here. And details of a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on Optimising Social Media for Youth Health and Wellbeing can be found here.