Author Archives: Margo Mackay

Working with Freeset – a Fairtrade business

If you have purchased one of our resources, chances are you have a Talking Mats bag. Last week, I went to West Bengal in India to visit Freeset, the Fairtrade business that supplies our bags.
West Bengal has been recording a high crime rate against women over the past several years. The state shares a border with Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan and has become a transit route for human trafficking.
Freeset has set up a number of business units in Kolkata and West Bengal targeting vulnerable communities marked by extreme poverty. Freeset offers employment to women who are at risk and is committed to providing fair, living wages and a healthy working environment for all employees. Wages are above the national minimum and all staff receive training , healthcare, child care and savings plans.
I was privileged to spend some time with the women listening to their stories, meeting their children and hearing how Freeset is bringing them a brighter future.
Read about the difference Freeset has made to individuals here

Talking Mats is proud to support the work of Freeset and be part of making a difference to the lives of women in West Bengal. If you are looking for ideas of how to support Fairtrade during Fairtrade fortnight here are some suggestions

Moving from Primary to Secondary school – pupils share their views of transition


Moving from a primary school to secondary school can be a daunting prospect for children.
Whilst schools understand the need to prepare the children for the transition process, due to time constraints, the focus tends to be on group visits to the new school rather than one to one support for individual children.

The challenge therefore is to ensure that each child feels prepared for the transition and that they have the opportunity to talk about any worries they may have.

My sister is a head teacher of a small village school and was interested in finding out more about her pupil’s experience and thoughts about their impending move to secondary education.
With the permission of parents I offered a Talking Mats session to each child in the term prior to them leaving for secondary education. In total this was 8 children.
I used digital Talking Mats, choosing the “What I do and support” topic cards from the primary school pack.
The children were told that we were going to think about how each topic may be affected by moving up to secondary school. We used a happy/not happy top scale.

The level of engagement from the children first amazed me. They were all excited by the prospect of using the digital Talking Mat. All were familiar with iPad use and grasped the concept quickly.
They used the topic cards to think about areas such as playing, friends, helping in the house, looking after yourself, your safety and managing stress.
They all expressed worry about the transition process but for many it was not around areas that teachers or parents would have automatically considered. How they were going to get to and from the new school was a theme that concerned them, as well as getting up and getting ready to go to school in the morning. A large number of the children also explained that they had poor sleep due to either difficulty getting off to sleep or waking with worries. Some children also disclosed some concerns about family life.

I found that the diverse nature of the cards prompted the children to think about areas of their life that their teachers had not ordinarily thought about when considering the impact of transition.

As an occupational therapist it struck me that many of the children were expecting that with the change from primary to secondary there also came the added responsibility of having to look after themselves. For them the transition was not just about moving schools it was also about being more “grown up” and being less reliant on their parents for prompting their self care routine or accompanying them when outside.

At the end of the session a summary was agreed with each child and this was sent to both the teacher and the parent so that they could support the child with the issues they raised. The teachers remarked that even though each session had only lasted 20 minutes, and was facilitated by someone the child had never met before, it had managed to reveal a breadth of information about how each child was feeling, that they were not previously aware of.

In summary, the beauty of the Talking Mats approach is that it allows the thinker to explore a range of issues that are relevant to them and does not lead the listener down a path of asking questions they think to be relevant. This gave the child I worked with the opportunity to really say what was troubling them. They were not put off by the fact they have never met me before, they talked freely with the digital version of the Talking Mat being both a point of focus as well as in a format they enjoyed.
Whilst the theme of the sessions in this case was transition, I would commend teachers to consider using Talking Mats in schools to enable children of all ages to think and communicate their feelings on a wide range of topics.

Thanks again Rachel Woolcomb OT for a great practical example.

Intermediaries for Justice Conference


It was great to be able to attend the Intermediaries for Justice Conference on the 9th May in City University London. From the very beginning there was a real buzz of excitement in the room. Intermediaries demonstrated throughout the day their commitment and passion for their job despite frequently working in difficult circumstances as well as having a role that is not always appreciated. They are employed by the crown, magistrates and family courts in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Intermediaries support two way communication between personnel involved in the justice system  supporting  those previously judged incapable of giving clear and effective evidence to do so.

There was a real buzz from the outset at the conference. At times, it can be quite a lonely role being an intermediary. If you get the role right and put the appropriate communication scaffolds in place,  everyone communicates well – then some in the justice system find it hard to recognise that you have done anything at all! Baroness Newlove, the victims commissioner for England and Wales who was one of the key note speakers said ‘You need to see how intermediaries work to believe what they do ‘ Being a skilled communicator and being creative is the bedrock of intermediary practice. Baroness Newlove was clear that there needs to be greater access to registered intermediaries and but also there were clear management and long term support issues that need to be addressed by government.
The theme by various speakers throughout the day was the challenge of communication in the justice system. As one speaker put it ‘Justice is being delivered in a system designed in the 18th century which makes it difficult to fit the needs of the 21st century and ensure all have access to legal process ‘ Another speaker spoke of registered intermediaries levelling the playing field but there is still not equal access as defendants do not have automatic access to the scheme . As well as communication difficulties arising through the child’s age and or the person’s disability the issue of cultural communication was raised particularly in relation to gang culture
The conference loved meeting Oliver – the first dog in Europe trained to be court friendly and whose role is to support children to give evidence . Research in America has shown that stroking pets can help reduce fear and support children in court
Talking Mats is a communication framework that some intermediaries use . One said she could not do the role without Talking Mats and two intermediaries have described their use of them in two previous blogs . Click to read a blog by Nicola Lewis and one by Catherine O’Neil . So Talking Mats was delighted to be asked to the conference to have a stand and run a workshop. It was great to have Aileen O’Hagan with us and she talked through some case examples when she had used Talking Mats in her role as a intermediary. One example involved working with a young person with selective mutism where Aileen used Talking Mats to great effect to help prepare and plan for her witness interview . She created options around the optimum environment for the interview e.g. lightening, seating etc but also options around the mode of giving evidence . The witness wanted to write things down and wanted the intermediary to speak them out loud.
The day left me in no doubt that intermediaries are effective in enabling the voice of those who would not otherwise be heard, be heard. I remain concerned and puzzled as to why Scotland does not have the scheme. We do have appropriate adults but this role does not have the legal standing nor the training and qualification demands of the registered intermediary scheme and in practice the focus of the work is different . I hope this situation will change.
The intermediaries for justice organisation have now established themselves as a charity and if you want to find more about their work then visit
If you are an intermediary and have found Talking Mats helpful then we would love to hear form you. We are always up for more guest blogs so please get in touch

Supporting families involved in the criminal justice system.

child thinking

Sally Kedge, Speech and Language Therapist from Trouble Talking New Zealand shares two powerful case examples of using Talking Mats with children and families caught up in the criminal justice system.

This week it was hot in New Zealand, so I sat under a tree in a school playground in the shade with an eight-year-old girl to do a Talking Mat. I’m a speech-language therapist engaged by the child protection agency who have guardianship of her. This doesn’t happen that often in NZ but the team involved with this girl and her brother realised that as well as dissociative behaviour related to the impact of trauma due to family violence exposure, there was also significant difficulty with language acquisition for both children. The mix of a trauma history and a language disorder was resulting in significant difficulty expressing emotions and explaining what had happened when behavioural outbursts happened.
Some of my work with this child has been to help the team understand how her language profiles impacts on her life, and to develop her language skills at school via a programme she carries out with a teacher-aide and a friend. My role has also involved helping her understand her own life story and to equip her to process this, as it hasn’t been a pretty ride so far.
At a multidisciplinary planning meeting for her and her sibling recently, the team were concerned to make sure the children had accurate information about when their father was going to be released from prison. Their mother has recently been released too but no one knows where she is currently. I suggested a Talking Mat might help us to find out what she knows at the moment about her parents and how she felt about the next few months, as there are likely to be some changes happening in her world. We wanted to give her accurate information so she didn’t need to fill in the gaps herself.
Using a Talking Mat helped me establish that currently this child feels many things in life are going well. This is good progress. However, we identified a few things that she felt were not going that well at school (‘in the middle’) and I was then able to talk to her teachers about preparing for the new school year starting in February. We figured out that she is looking forward to seeing her dad but doesn’t know when she will see him or where he is going. A conversation with her Social Worker and the drug rehabilitation residence has allowed me to put together some visuals and a timetable to show what is going to happen next. Dad can have these as well as her carer and others in her team.

Another child with a similar history also did a Talking Mat with me last week. My purpose was to help the team find out how he feels his current care situation is going. A very mixed picture emerged with some concerning cards placed in ‘not going well’. I asked the boy at the end if he knew anyone who could help him with those things and he said, ‘no one’. I was able to explain that I am one of the adults who need to figure out how to make life easier for him and I would talk to some other adults and come back to see him. The photo I took of the Talking Mat allowed me to follow up with the team and I took the photo back to the boy to explore further some of the ‘not going well’ cards. At this second visit, this boy initially did not want to speak at all, but he engaged fully in looking at the photo of the Talking Mat with me.

sally kedge blog
We used a scale of 1 – 5 (how much of a problem is this for you – 1 = not much, = 5 = really really bad) on a piece of paper that he could mark with a pen to explore the ‘not going well’ items in the photo. He picked out ‘mood’, ‘people coming to his house’ and ‘learning at school’ as ‘really really bad’. We agreed that these needed to get sorted out for him to make life easier and we agreed who I could talk to about these things. Once we got that agreed and written down, he initiated some conversation about less heavy topics and started playing. I’m now following up with the team. Easier said than done, but without the Talking Mat I don’t think we would have got his views so clearly.
Our Talking Trouble Aotearoa NZ team is involved with children, young people and adults involved with care and protection, justice, mental health and behaviour agencies. We have been very excited about the wide range of opportunities that Talking Mats has provided us and the professionals we work with to explore people’s views on their own situations, their preferences, and their well-being. This year we’ve been exploring how Talking Mats might be used in our contexts:
– in sexual assault health assessments undertaken by specialised health professionals
– for Social Workers in our Youth Justice and Care and Protection Communication Projects
– When finding out about how people feel about talking and understanding in legal contexts such as courts and Family Group Conferences when we are engaged as court-appointed Communication Assistants (equivalent to ‘intermediaries’),
– and in our own speech-language therapy assessments and interventions.
The social workers, paediatricians, teachers, lawyers and others we work with have also been excited about exploring how Talking Mats can assist in these contexts. We’re looking forward to more training from the Talking Mats team next year.

Come and hear Sally speak at our Criminal Justice Seminar on the 17th of April 2018. Contact  for more information.

Work with children and young people? TOP 10 TM blogs


Huge thanks to all the practitioners who have sent us guest blogs. We selected our 10 favourite guest blogs…in no particular order!

  1.  Talking Mats to support children who stammer Kirsten Taylor, Speech and Language Therapist tells a moving story about how finding out what was upsetting a boy with a stammer helped to implement change.
  2. Hearing the voice of the child Emma Atkiss, Senior Educational Psychologist, shares her findings from the Wigan Pathfinder project reporting that using a Talking Mat helps to meet the 5 criteria of Shier’s model of participation.
  3. Talking Mats for capacity assessments in people with ASD/LD Ruth Spilman, Senior SLT from The Cambian Group, shares practical tips on assessing capacity.
  4. Castle hill school supports pupil voice Jenna McCammon, SLT and Rebecca Highton, SLT Assistant, tell 3 inspiring stories using TMs in: selective mutism; safeguarding and motivational interviewing.
  5. Supporting Looked After Children to have their say Karen Wilson, Principal Teacher for children with additional support needs in a mainstream secondary school  shares her experience of using TMs to give young people a stronger voice in making decisions affecting them.
  6. Hearing the voices of Looked After Children Rachel Clemow, Head Teacher and Donna Wood, Education Support Worker, report that Talking Mats has enabled children to express their thoughts and views in a safe, neutral environment.
  7. Talking Mats and Mental Health  Carla Innes, Clinical Psychologist for learning disability from Healthy Young minds Stockport talks about the impact of TM training on the whole team.
  8. Mummy I don’t want to go to nursery today read about how using a Talking Mat might shed some light on why a 4 year old was upset at the thought of going to nursery.
  9. How do you feel about starting school? The story of 4 year old twins and their thoughts about starting school.
  10. Sibling Attitudes Prof Juan Bornman from Pretoria in South Africa publishes a report on a study carried out with 27 typically developing children who have a younger sibling with a severe speech and language disability.

If you have been inspired and are not yet trained to use Talking Mats – come along to one of our training courses.