“Having someone who listens is a great gift, but to be truly heard is a treasure.” ~ Tatjana Urbic

Everyone wants to be heard, to be understood, and to believe that other people can empathize with their concerns. For those whose job it is to listen and connect with others, much of the challenge can be to navigate the complex dynamics of human communication while juggling multiple case loads, factoring in family dynamics, and facing the struggles that are inherently embedded within the child welfare process. How we communicate with children and families matters. If you want to develop these competencies, the good news is that there is always room to improve.

In the Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Framework, communication is defined as effectively sending and receiving verbal, electronic and written communication within the appropriate cultural context. In this article we look at some of the worker competencies associated with communication, to discuss how they relate to child welfare work, and to provide resources for developing those competencies. To help provide context, we reached out to several Training Academy staff for their thoughts on how to connect this topic with the work of child welfare.

The first competency states that workers should demonstrate the ability to employ active and reflective listening skills to promote clear communication and develop trust with children and families. "Child protection workers are expected to effectively engage in communication efforts that include active and reflective listening that promotes trust with children and families,” says Lolita Johnson, Curriculum Supervisor. “Building trust is a critical component to establishing healthy relationships that promote child safety, permanency, and wellbeing."

A second communication competency asks that workers demonstrate an ability to employ clear, concise, ethical and factual writing skills with attention to structure, grammar and spelling, including the ability to accurately, concisely, ethically and objectively document a variety of assessment content, case notes, and court narratives. Connie Abbott-Foster, Human Services Consultant adds that, "Skillfully writing case notes in an ethical, competent way can make a huge difference on what decisions are made in the life of a child and family."

Beyond the foundational competencies, the Framework also provides advanced level competencies. One states that workers should demonstrate the ability to use different methods of documentation to communicate assessment information. “It takes a high level of skill to know how and when to relay assessment information,” says Cheryl Stevens, Foundations Trainer. “An important piece of this is meeting the information needs of the intended recipient. For example, information in a court report needs to be written to meet legal standards at the same time being a legal document that guides a family towards resolution of the CP case. Relaying information to a family about the results of an assessment can be a critical juncture in the child protection process. A worker with advanced skills is able to share this information in a humane and gracious way that enables a family to retain their dignity and compels the family to move forward.” Renetta Walk, SSIS Trainer, adds that, “Child welfare documentation is factual information that encourages good social work practice as a case management tool to manage the worker’s workload and case details, an evaluation tool to measure the results of the services provided, and an workflow process that is not just a paper or automated data entry process.”

Refer to pages 11-12 of the Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Framework to review all competencies related to Communication, and consider ways to develop your own knowledge and skills. If you are interested in resources related to this competency, consider the following:

The Minnesota Child Welfare Practice Framework is a series of competencies that helps child welfare professionals define and demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and understanding across a number of different practice areas. In Minnesota, child welfare practice is guided by this practice framework, which offers outcomes, values, principles and skills necessary to promote child safety, permanency, and wellbeing.

If you have discovered other resources for developing competencies in communication, please share! Email us at info@mnchildwelfaretraining.com, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. With a better understanding of the competencies for front-line workers and their supervisors, we can reflect the specific knowledge and skills necessary for culturally-responsive, trauma-informed, and developmentally-based work with children, families, communities, and tribes across Minnesota.