Developing Together Social Work  Teaching Partnership

Blog Post: Direct Work with Children


By Sue Lansley, Social Work Lead for the South West London and Surrey Teaching Partnership talks about her interest in direct work with children throughout her career and the roll out of 100 direct work kit bags for social workers in the partnership.

A thread that has run throughout my social work career working with children and families over the last 25 years has been my interest in completing direct work with children. Working creatively with direct work tools has allowed me to develop relationships with children and find ways to both understand their world and also support them in processing what is happening in their lives. This could be doing genograms using buttons and figures to explore their wider family and support network, drawing and decorating life roads or islands, or finding ways to use tools to help both myself and the child to understand their life journey, such as key events with their family, them moving to live with foster carers, or the court process and what decisions will be made for them about their lives.

What has struck me is that Social Workers’ ‘kit’ is often supplied by themselves, doing as I have done picking up pens, stickers and craft as I pop into the local Works, looking through direct work templates on the internet, or looking at the latest tools there might be to engage with children such as conversation cubes. I have collected a vast number of puppets, lego men, playmobil people, cars and McDonald’s happy meal toys over the years, so much so that my tool kit is overflowing. Although a firm favourite for some children has been the magic wand made out of a chopstick with black sticky tape around it and a silver marker pen for decoration. One little girl I worked with throughout the time of care proceedings and her being placed with foster carers and then later on her placement with her adoptive carers,  would eagerly look in my ‘kitbag’ for what craft, puppets or toys were there and would often be the instigator for what we would do on that visit. What I was always able to gain from these visits though was a clear sense of what was going on for her, her worries and her wishes as well as an opportunity for me to explain what the next steps were in the decisions that were being made. The magic wand was a firm favourite of hers and she would often get this out to tell me what she wished for. This helped me enormously when looking for an adoptive placement for her and seeking out adoptive parents that would be able to meet some of these ‘wishes’. 

As I moved into a management role I noticed that there were some social workers who were incredibly comfortable and highly skilled at doing direct work with children. They too had self sourced a fantastic array of items that supported their direct work with children. They were creative and able to pick up on children’s cues around how to work with that child on a given day and adapt their tool kit to ensure that they were able to engage positively with a child. Reading their recording of visits, the child would ‘jump out’ at me and their voice was very much present.

However, I was also aware that there were other social workers that maybe lacked the creativity and confidence in engaging with children, would state they did not have time to do direct work, and struggled to use direct work tools to support them in this area of their work. Whilst working with that team we created a direct work cupboard with a huge range of resources for direct work and held regular workshops and discussions in team meetings on new ideas, sharing our creativity about completing direct work. 

In my role as the Social Work Lead for the Teaching Partnership I was lucky enough to attend the BASW conference on World Social Work Day and hear Gillian Ruch speak on the 8020campaign which aims to shift the percentage of time social workers are doing direct work with people compared to the time they are completing paperwork and other administrative tasks. This got me thinking about what social workers need to be able to equip them to do direct work with children and after discussing this with other social workers in the partnership, created a kit bag with basic tools such as craft kits, card, pens, crayons, puppets, feelings cards, bubbles, egg timer, conversation cubes, stress balls and worry monster. There are of course many more items that could be included but this has been a start. The hope is that social workers will feel motivated and better equipped to do this work through having their kit bag and thus more direct work will be done with children and their voice will be evident throughout the social workers’ involvement with them. 

The South West London and Surrey Teaching Partnership has been able to give out 100 kit bags so far across the Partnership, running some direct work sessions with partners so that direct work with children can be discussed and social workers can begin to get their creative juices flowing. There are of course areas where social workers feel particularly challenged in completing direct work such as carrying out work with teenagers and those children and young people that do not wish to have a social worker in their life.  The discussions around these issues have allowed social workers to share ideas and helped to develop confidence. We also hope to develop some research on direct work with these groups with the help of our partner agencies.

We are hoping to get feedback from partners on how the kit bags have been used and whether this has increased some workers’ confidence and creativity in carrying out direct work, so watch this space for future blogs. 

There are some links below to some great sites where you can access ideas and download templates for direct work as well as links to texts and articles on direct work with children to support your learning and development in this area:

Developing Together Direct Work with Children Kitbags ready to go to out to partners!