6 Questions and Discussion
Asking a lot of questions can be intrusive and intimidating. It is therefore better to use other techniques to communicate in a hearing and to use questions sparingly. It is also important to distinguish between questions which are used for information and those for obtaining views.
Effective questioning will depend on good preparation. When discussing a family's problems, panel members will need tact and a non-judgmental manner. They should treat people with respect and courtesy. It can be helpful if panel members acknowledge the difficulties when approaching sensitive issues, and to try to show respect for families' answers, even if they don't agree with them. Where possible open questions should be used instead of closed questions which only require a yes or no answer. Questions should be asked singly and answers waited for before asking another, rather than asking multiple questions. It is important to finish with one train of thought before moving on to another. In order for people to take in a question properly they need to remember it from the beginning to the end.
Concrete questions who? what? where? are easier for children to answer than abstract questions such as when? why? how?
What to say and how to say it
Here are some examples of different strategies for discussion. Some will be more helpful than others. Panel members can develop their own awareness by noticing how people exchange information in day to day conversations in which they take part (e.g. with their family or at work). Through practice, observation of others and training they should develop their skills in engaging appropriately with those present at a hearing.
Helpful to the discussion
Concrete, Who? What? Where rather than abstract When? How? Why? questions are more likely to get a response and may be useful in encouraging a child to speak at the beginning of the hearing. It can be the case that individuals are not conscious of their motivations and find it difficult to answer abstract questions. Therefore the reply given could be a "Don't know."
A child's understanding of Who? What? Where? develops earlier than When? How? and Why? will . For younger children it may be better to avoid abstract questions altogether
These can be helpful for approaching sensitive issues.
I wonder if you've thought about . . .?
Would you feel able to . . . ?
Have you considered . . . ?
Do you think you could have . . .?
Could you explain a bit more what you mean by . . . ?
Is what you are saying . . . ?
I think perhaps what Mr X is saying is . . .
Maybe what we.re trying to suggest is . . .
I don't think that is quite what we meant. It was more that . . .
These do not really introduce new information but 'mirror' or reflect what has already been said by someone else. They can be surprisingly useful. They continue a discussion without complicating the situation by introducing new points. They bounce the conversational tennis ball back into the opposite court. Importantly they pull together the strands of a discussion and clarify the position of the person who first expressed the views in question. They can be phrased in various ways:
What you seem to be saying is. . .
Your view is that. . .
To sum it all up, you. . .
What you have described is that. . .
One advantage if using such statements is that they allow the recipient room for manoeuvre. They can be accepted, denied or modified in an atmosphere containing less risk of confrontation.
I wonder if perhaps. . .
Would it be fair to say that. . .
Are you suggesting that. . .
Interim summing up (checking discussion so far)
If I could just go over what we've discussed so far . . .
Up to now we've only talked about the school problem . . .
So, as I understand it, you are agreeing that . . .
Working together questions (panel members following the same line of questioning)
Could I go on from what Mrs Y was asking . . .?
I'd like to ask you a follow-up question . . .
Do you think you could explain a bit more about what you were saying to Mr B . .?
Expressions of understanding
The basic philosophy of the children's hearing is one of round table discussion in which all parties collaborate in an attempt to set in motion the most appropriate measure to help the child in need or trouble. One of the more useful tools for a panel member to use is a statement which expresses understanding and rapport and which invites continued discussion.
I know it's difficult for you to talk about these problems . . .
This will be upsetting for all of you, but we have to move on to discuss . . .
Please take as much time as you need with your answer . . .
It does seem to me, Mrs Smith, that you have had to cope with a lot of problems which other mothers have not had to face.
Unhelpful to the discussion
These questions invite the answer 'yes' or 'no' and are not an effective way of gaining general information. They are good however for checking facts and useful for bringing the conversation back to the point.
Don't you think that . . .?
Have you really tried . . .?
But surely you understand that . . .?
You will try and go back to school, won't you?
Wouldn't it be better if you stayed away?
Loaded remarks or questions
These are similar to leading questions. They are questions or remarks where the aim seems to be to provoke guilt feelings, a declaration that the individual has resolved to or has already changed his or her behaviour in a certain direction, or an awareness of the stupidity of his or her behaviour:
You're sorry now you did that, aren't you?
How do you feel now about what you did?
If we place you on a compulsory supervision order, will you promise to attend school?
It is unlikely that a child at a hearing would answer in other than the desired direction.
These may be said by panel members in an attempt to 'correct' the ways of the child and family. In the process they display their own attitudes and outlook. An observer at hearings where such statements are used, emerge with a firm impression of the attitudes and views of the panel members and very little idea of the thoughts and feelings of the child and family. Panel members may think that the use of judgmental observations will act as a deterrent to future misbehaviour. There is little evidence that they do.
A mother is the best friend that you can ever have.
You must learn to respect your mother and father and to do what they say.
You are a big boy now and you are not behaving responsibly.
Following up too quickly
It is important to give people time to answer a question. They might need to think through the implications of giving a particular answer.
What do you do in your spare time? (No answer.) Do you like football? Gives room for only 'yes' or 'no'
Sudden changes of direction.
Interrupting before a speaker has finished or peppering a child or parent with a whole series of unrelated questions are all confusing and unhelpful tactics which do not allow discussion to develop.
Ambiguities, jokes, sarcasm, metaphors, similes should be avoided as should anything which might affect the clarity of language.
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