New campaign urges councils to supply social workers with children’s play materials

A University of Sussex academic is calling on all local authorities across England to supply social workers with play materials to help build better relations with children.

Professor Gillian Ruch, Professor of Social Work at the University of Sussex, is launching the Kitbag Campaign to ensure that all social workers across the country have interactive materials that can assist them in their daily work.

The campaign is responding to new research which suggests that fewer than 20% of social work practitioners currently use play resources during their work with children.

Professor Ruch said: “Appropriate child-centred materials are a vital tool for making initial contact with children and building up the required levels of trust, so it really is concerning that many social workers don’t have these materials to hand for their day-to-day work. While we appreciate that budgets are tighter than ever in local government, we feel strongly that a very small investment in suitable materials will certainly reap rewards in terms of greater engagement with the children for whom local councils have a duty of care.”

The Talking and Listening to Children (TLC) research, a collaborative project between the University of Sussex, Cardiff University, Queen’s University in Belfast and the University of Edinburgh, also indicated that of the social workers who do use play materials to engage with children, most buy toys or arts and crafts materials out of their own pockets rather than have bespoke child-centred resources supplied to them by their employers.

Social workers participating in the TLC research project told researchers that such items should be provided as an essential part of their professional work but such resources are extremely scarce, if available at all.

The new campaign is named after Kitbag, a resource for children and families designed by Scotland-based educational charity International Futures Forum.

The Kitbag, which contains finger puppets, feelings and emotions cards, a Talking Stick and calming oil, is an invaluable multi-sensory communication tool which ‘meets’ the child where he or she is, encouraging open-ness and quickly building confidence, trust and resilience in children and their families.

Children’s charity Children 1st, in partnership with IFF, uses Kitbag as part of its Restorative Practice toolkit and it has been introduced into schools across Scotland while Children 1st support workers use it in their work with families.

Social workers at Brighton and Hove City Council are set to become the first English local authority staff to have access to the Kitbag to use in a six month trial and campaign organisers hope other councils will also sign up to get involved.

Dr Margaret Hannah, the charity’s Director of Health Programmes, said “We are delighted to see the Kitbag name used as a rallying point for this wider initiative and the recognition of Kitbag’s potential to support social workers in their family work. Kitbag uses simple materials expertly designed and brought together to help establish a nurturing relational space and has been adopted with enthusiasm in schools, family and other settings – with or without professional support.”

Professor Ruch now wants to get a comprehensive picture of what materials councils from around the country are supplying for their staff and is encouraging social workers to complete a simple one question online survey asking them whether play resources are provided by their employers for them to use when working with children.

The Kitbag Campaign has received the backing of the British Association of Social Workers (BASW) who are supporting the need for social workers to have access to practice based resources as part of their own 80:20 campaign, which aims to rebalance social workers’ time spent on administration tasks to have more time being spent on direct relationship based work with children and their families.

BASW and the University of Sussex are hosting a partnership 80:20 conference on Thursday 4 April 2019 focusing on learning from good practice and implementing changes to systems that will support social workers to spend more time undertaking ‘direct work’ with children and families.

Maris Stratulis, BASW England National Director, said: “I urge all social workers to complete the survey. It’s very important that social workers in direct practice share their views to help shape the work the Kitbag Campaign is doing.”