As social work and court professionals, we are all writers and all spend a huge amount of time conveying our thoughts through the written word. At Cafcass we write to the courts and to the parties. We write for the organisation and to our regulatory body. But beyond that, and most importantly, we write for children– to make their lives better.
But what of writing to children? For example, following proceedings to explain the outcome. HHJ Miller in Hampshire was recently commended for writing to a young person to explain why she had not followed their expressed wishes and feelings. Children’s orders are becoming more widely used. More and more emphasis is being placed on us not only gathering information from children but sharing it with them, explaining it in a way that is palatable and understandable.
So how can we do this well? Here are my five top tips on writing to children:
1. Be stage aware – ensure you know what level of understanding the child has, regardless of their age. Use simple language, short words and sentences (avoiding jargon), and a gentle tone.
2. Be communicative rich – use relevant pictures or photos, for example of a courtroom or judge, to build context.
3. Use rapport – include something you learnt from the child when writing to them (e.g. “I hope you had a good holiday in France,” or “I hope you are enjoying the football season.”).
4. Be empowering – remind the child what they have done well (e.g. “I was really impressed by the way you were able to tell me what you wanted and the judge listened carefully.”).
5. Think about the media you use – older children and teenagers may be more receptive to a letter sent electronically. It is best to check with children when you meet them about how they would like you to communicate with them.