2 What is Meant by Communication?
Communication encompasses the spoken word and its interpretation by the listener; the gestures, facial expressions, glances - all the other ways we have of expressing our views with our bodies rather than with the spoken word; and the written word via letters, reports and legal documents. All these aspects of communication feature in a children's hearing and will play a part in how each person present comes to understand or fails to understand what is happening. Some of the legal requirements are framed to encourage communication and stress the importance of it by the use of words - inform, explain, invite to express views, discuss.
The Chairing member must inform those present at the hearing of the substance of any relevant report or other relevant document Rule 61(2)(a)
The chairing member may invite any other person present at the hearing as the children's hearing considers appropriate to express their views on or provide any other information relevant to any matter or action being considered by the hearing Rule 61(2)(c)
Communication is not straightforward. It requires a sender of a message and a receiver. The receiver will interpret the message sent according to his or her past experiences, level of development and understanding, current emotional state and his or her understanding of what is at stake as a result of the message being given.
WHAT IS EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION?
Effective communication occurs when both the sender and receiver are sure that each understands the message sent. This means that the sender must give clear messages which match both verbally and non-verbally. Sometimes the words used may be inviting and hospitable but the tone of voice and body language conflicts with this, e.g. a mother saying to a teenager "I said you could go out", but the tone is harsh, the facial expression tense and arms folded. The teenager might then be confused - should he or she obey the spoken word and go out or follow the interpretation of the body language and stay in? Good communication should allow both the sender and receiver the opportunity to check with each other that the message is clear.
Listening is also an important part of good communication. If the receiver of a verbal message has developed good listening skills then the sender will feel respected and thus may be able to explain or discuss matters in more depth. Good listening allows the receiver to pick up the feelings behind the words.
BARRIERS TO EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION IN HEARINGS
The communication process during a hearing is highly complex. Imagine what it must be like for a family to be confronted by strangers whose task it is to discuss the family's most difficult problems and reach a decision about the future for their child.
Children and families are likely to be anxious, distressed, resenting the intrusion into their privacy by strangers, and very conscious of the power the panel members have to intervene in their lives. It is therefore important that surroundings are made as welcoming as possible and, before the hearing starts, consideration should be given as to how the room is arranged (within the limitation of the furniture and space in the hearing room). The timetable may be tight and tension will increase if a family is kept waiting. There is pressure on panel members to get the legal procedures correct, but they should also try to achieve a supportive atmosphere which encourages children and families to express their points of view freely and thus contribute to the decision-making.
English might not be the first language of a child or parent. A family member may have learning difficulties or a health problem which may affect their capabilities to hear, speak or understand. Panel members and professionals may use professional jargon which is not understood by the family. Social workers and other people attending hearings all have their own worries and concerns. With so many built in barriers to good communication, it is hardly surprising that young people and families sometimes fail to understand what is going on and express a critical view of hearings.
" The way they do them isn't good, the way they sit, big table, chairs- we're sitting down from them. That's not right. The child feels intimidated- they're sitting down from them. They're sitting there in the spotlight" Zoe, 13
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