Engage: The small social work kitbag making a big difference to children’s lives

More than 50 social workers at seven local authorities across the country are trialing the use of a specially-created bag of resources to help professionals to communicate and engage with children.

Currently social work practitioners in Bexley, Bradford, Coventry, Oxford, Rotherham and Telford are using the Kitbag in their practice while staff at Brighton and Hove City Council will begin their participation later in the autumn.

The Talking and Listening to Children (TLC) Kitbag campaign was launched by University of Sussex Professor of Social Work, Gillian Ruch, earlier this year in response to research highlighting the shortage of materials provided for staff to engage with children.

The TLC research project discovered less than 20% of social workers used resources when communicating with children. A subsequent social media poll conducted by Professor Ruch revealed that 70% of participating social workers received no resources from their employer to work with children.

It is now hoped that more local authorities will sign up to work with the campaign so that many more children can benefit from the approach.

Professor Ruch said: “Kitbag is an invaluable communication tool which encourages openness and helps social workers to quickly build confidence, trust and resilience in children and their families.

“The initial responses to the campaign from the local authorities we have been working with have been extremely positive and endorsed our decision to launch Kitbag. Having such a resource can really make a significant difference to making the all-important connections with children and we would love to see the positive impact of the campaign spread more widely around the country.”

Kitbags, which contain finger puppets, human qualities cards, a Talking Stick, calming oil, and a one-minute timer for presence exercises, have been designed by the Scotland-based educational charity International Futures Forum. The first allocation of Kitbags to local authorities have been paid for by an award from the University of Sussex’s Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) Impact Accelerator Fund.

The campaign has also received the support and backing of The British Association of Social Workers (BASW) as part of their own 80:20 campaign, which aims to rebalance social workers’ time spent on administration tasks to enable them to have more time to spend on direct relationship-based work with children and their families.

Participating authorities were briefed on best practice with the Kitbag in workshops delivered earlier this year and the campaign team will be returning to the councils early in the New Year to monitor progress.

Initial feedback on the scheme from practitioners has been overwhelmingly positive.

John Herbert, a Family Keyworker from the London Borough of Bexley, said: “I used the Kitbag with Joey, a 7-year-old boy, and his family. They chose to use the Animal Cards and Joey picked the understanding card to help him tell his mum he wants her to try to understand him more. This led the family to start to have a conversation with one another about their feelings and what they need from each other. The family found the session really helpful and Joey’s wish was for everyone to have a Kitbag.”

Becky Buchanan, a social worker in a Children in Need team at Rotherham Metropolitan Borough Council, said Kitbag proved a great resource with an eight-year-old girl she was working with, including the mindfulness tools of calming oil, presence cards and timer.

She added: “We also went through the cards and she wanted to pick some for her and then I could pick some. Her mum has been really ill from drinking, but things are getting better. The little girl picked out some cards which showed this, such as energy and courage, and then some such as trust and hope that helped her share that mum has had a slip-up with drink again.

“I was then able to share this with mum in the Child in Need meeting. It was really powerful to share the good things and the ongoing worries and to help mum understand that her daughter was sharing this, rather than being directly asked about her drinking.”

Any authorities looking to participate in the scheme should contact Professor Ruch on: [email protected].

Picture – A workshop in Oxford to promote the resources (c) Talking And Listening To Children.