When this blog from Janie Scott, a Talking Mats Licenced Trainer with Perth and Kinross Council came in I was a bit stumped. There was a lot that I wanted to highlight but I didn’t want to focus on one thing and detract from others:
- The importance of understanding and applying the Talking Mats framework allowing conversations on topics not covered by our resources.
- Demonstrating how Talking Mats can enable the voice of the child to be heard, upholding Scotland’s Promise to care experienced children, young people, and families.
- A model for embedding Talking Mats in a service.
I decided to go with everything. In 2 parts.
Talking Mats; UNCRC, the Promise and hearing the thinker:
Janie Scott, (Highly Specialist SLT Perth & Kinross Council)
Scotland is currently progressing with the incorporation of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) through the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.1 The UNCRC, article 12, states that, ‘children have the right to give their opinions freely on issues that affect them. Adults should listen and take children seriously.’
Talking Mats enables rights-based participation for children, allowing them to form and express views freely. It allows others to understand the issues and, as stated above, have those views taken seriously 2
The ‘voice’ of the child is central to The Promise3. Talking mats should be considered the ‘scaffolding’ to enable a voice to be heard.
Last year I rolled out Talking Mats foundation training to Social Workers and Senior Social Care Officers working within Services for Children, Young People and Families, in Perth and Kinross Council. Fundamental to Talking Mats is the framework; the ability to use an appropriate top scale, open questions, silence and pass control to the thinker. Having demonstrated the importance of the framework in the training, we then went on to develop symbol sets specifically related to the work of the Social Work teams. These covered a wide range of topics including:
- becoming a foster family
- sexual knowledge
- contact arrangements,
- behaviours that adopted children think might be difficult to deal with
- school life
- triggers (related to drugs and alcohol)
I was privileged to hear several reports of how Talking Mats had allowed the voice of the children and young people to be heard which had a direct positive impact on their lives. Here are two powerful examples from a parent and a social worker.
” I have really enjoyed using Talking Mats. It lets me see everything in an organised way. I really like that. It has also shown me the progress I have made; I have found using an advocate really useful in the past but I don’t need to use an advocate any more as I feel more confident. I used to struggle with making decisions but this mat made me realise that I make decisions all the time and they are not wrong decisions.”
Assessing Social Worker for Kinship Care
“As part of my role, I need to find out information from teenagers on how they feel their kinship placement is going. Typically I find that many teenagers give one word answers or sometimes they tell me what they think I want to hear. Talking Mats has been useful in my work in allowing teenagers to open up. It has also been useful with children who have English as an additional language. The children did speak English, but it made it easier to get their ‘story’ from them.
“There was one particularly quiet and reserved teenage boy who was reluctant to share information. The Talking Mat allowed him to tell me much more than when I had initially questioned him. Through the Mats we were able to distinguish the difference he felt between living at home and living with his kinship carers. The Talking Mat enabled him to express that his kinship carers were open to having discussions with him and talking about his worries whereas his Mum did not want to talk about his worries. this was something that I was able to support him in sharing with his Mum as part of the plan for him to return home.“
To uphold Article 12 services must be proactive in creating opportunities to listen to the voice of the child. Talking Mats is enabling the voices of children, young people and families to be heard in Perth and Kinross. This voice is influencing key decisions in their lives across a variety of forums including the Children’s Hearing System, Kinship Panels, and Child’s Plan Meetings.
- Children’s rights legislation in Scotland: quick reference guide – gov.scot (www.gov.scot) ↩︎
- Can Scotland be Brave – Incorporating UNCRC Article 12 in practice – gov.scot (www.gov.scot) ↩︎
- Foundations of the promise – The Promise ↩︎
Talking Mats Director, Margo MacKay, will be presenting with Laura Lundy, Professor of International Children’s Rights, QU, Belfast on Wednesday 1st of November, 2023 at NHS Education Scotland webinar; ‘The voice of the infant and child; rights- based participation for children and young people’
For more details please see the NES website.
Read ‘Can Scotland Be Brave, Incorporating UNCRC Article 12 in practice here
This year’s campaign focuses on the importance of healthy connections in supporting mental health and wellbeing. Being able to communicate feelings and opinions is a huge contributor to creating healthy connections. Whether it is because there is a visual focus or because the ‘side by side conversation’ is more comfortable, Talking Mats is a tool that allows the voice of the young person to be heard. Read these blogs on Mental Health and Young People and our Impact Stories (to follow!) to find out more and take advantage of our discount on the Advanced Keeping Safe online module (details at bottom)
- Dr Carla Innes, Clinical Psychologist for Learning Disabilities at Stockport Healthy Young Minds (CAMHS) describes how Talking Mats helps the team to gain more insight to the children and young people they are working with, and how it has helped intervention focus on the child’s potential, and zone of proximal development. https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-and-mental-health/. This work in Stockport is further expanded on in a presentation by Dr Rosie Noyce, Clinical Psychologist, given at the Talking Mats 21st Birthday Event in August 2019. https://www.talkingmats.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/Talking-Mats-and-Young-Peoples-Mental-Health.pdf
Sally Kedge, SLT with Talking Trouble, New Zealand shares 2 powerful case examples of using Talking Mats with children and families caught up in the Criminal Justice System and demonstrates how the connection with a therapist can be the key to unlocking feelings and emotions https: //www.talkingmats.com/support-for-prisoners-families-experience-from-new-zealand/ Natalie Paris, Project Lead for Cashback180 programme based within Mayfield and Easthouses Youth 2000 Project, shares stories of using Talking Mats with young people in Midlothian. https: //www.talkingmats.com/using-talking-mats-to-open-up-conversations-with-young-people/
- Our Director, Margo MacKay, describes using Talking Mats to ask young people about their environment and the impact different environments can have on wellbeing. https://www.talkingmats.com/consulting-children-impact-environment/
Laura Holmes, our Lead Associate for Children and Young People, writes about the Virtual Schools Team in Wigan and how they used Talking Mats with Looked After Children. https: //www.talkingmats.com/hearing-voices-looked-children-young-people/
Keeping safe is an Advanced Online Module and the first 20 people to sign up to this course will receive a 20% discount. Please remember you need to already be trained to Foundation Level to access this course. Use the code KS2020 at the checkout
Our first Talking Mats advanced online module has launched. We are pleased we had developed our online foundation training well before lockdown. There has been such great feedback from people who have completed our online foundation course and they have been asking for more. They like the bite size chunks, being able to pace their own learning and the reflective practice approach. Now we are adding to our online course with an advanced Talking Mats module focusing on Talking Mats use in safeguarding. This course is structured around the Talking Mats Keeping Safe resource and how to use it.
The Keeping Safe Talking Mats resource was developed to check in with people and find out how their lives are going. It uses a holistic framework to do this and the conversation it supports is structured around three topics: 1) well-being; 2) relationships; 3) thoughts and feelings. The resource was trialled and tested in projects involving over 700 practitioners. Originally, it was designed for people with learning disabilities but feedback has been that it has been helpful with a wide range of people including, those with stroke, head injury, dementia and mental health issues.
The advanced online module involves 2 to 3 hours of learning that you do at your own time and pace. It involves short talks, reading, videos and reflective practice activities. You will develop confidence in using the resource as well as an understanding of relevant issues, such as diagnostic overshadowing, developing the capacity of individuals to raise concerns, the impact of trauma. You will be encouraged to reflect on how you can apply the Talking Mats Keeping Safe resource to your own area of practice
To apply for the course, you must have completed your foundation Talking Mats training. If you haven’t completed this training book now – there is still the reduced price training offer if you book your place before the end of August 2020. Access to this advanced course will begin on the first of every month and you will have the full month to complete it.
Book your place now. The cost is £85 for the course and the Keeping Safe resource and £35 if you already have your Keeping Safe resource and just want to do the training.
Thanks so much to all the practitioners who have sent us guest blogs about using Talking Mat in a Criminal Justice setting. Here are our top 5 – in no particular order!
1. Supporting Families in the Criminal Justice System: 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. https://www.talkingmats.com/support-for-prisoners-families-experience-from-new-zealand/
2. Communication Needs within Youth Justice – Part 1: On 17th April 2017, we organised a seminar to look at underlying issues and share good practice when addressing the communication needs of people in youth justice. We had representatives from: the Scottish government, the NHS; Third sector organisations working in youth justice, the police, social workers, professional bodies, universities and social work – from as far afield as New Zealand. The emphasis from the start was that understanding communication is key to improving service delivery. https://www.talkingmats.com/communication-needs-in-youth-justice/
3. Communication Needs within Youth Justice – Part 2: The afternoon session of our seminar on 17.04.17 continued the underlying theme that communication support needs are often hidden and many looked after children have support needs that remain unidentified. The outcome of the day was the establishment of a collaborative network. https://www.talkingmats.com/youth-justice-and-communication-needs-2/
4. Setting up a SLT Service in Prison: This inspiring blog by Jacqui Learoyd explores her role in setting up a speech and language therapy ( SLT ) service in a prison and her use of Talking Mats in that setting https://www.talkingmats.com/setting-up-an-slt-service-in-prison/
5. Has Talking Mats been used in Court? Two registered intermediaries talk about a couple of cases where Talking Mats was used as part of the achieving best evidence (ABE) interviews. https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-used-court/
If you have been inspired and are not yet trained, come along to one of our Foundation training courses – for details see https://www.talkingmats.com/training/foundation-training/
We also offer online training if you are unable to access the training locations – for details see https://www.talkingmats.com/training/online-training/
In Stockport we have a termly ‘Voice of the Child/Young Person’ Champions Network meeting during which professionals working in health, education and social care settings across the area meet to discuss real-life examples and to share information and strategies – during the last meeting in October 2018, we discussed using Talking Mats to support police interviewing.
Louise Tickle, Specialist Learning Disability Nurse from the Children’s Learning Disability Team at Stockport NHS Foundation Trust, shared a great example of using Talking Mats to support a child she was working with to share information about a serious safeguarding concern. Louise had been asked by the police to carry out a Talking Mats session with the child as they were aware that she was already using this approach. Louise led the session and was supported by the child’s school SENCO, who had also been Talking Mats trained. The aim was to explore a disclosure which the child had previously made.
Louise shared some great tips about using Talking Mats during an investigation phase:
- Introduce the Talking Mat with a familiar topic, then move on to the main topic/ area of concern
- Watch out for non-verbal cues – initially, the child appeared to be happy and relaxed during the interview, however the child’s non-verbal communication visibly changed when the topic changed. It is easier to pick up on these non-verbal cues if you are able to video the session.
- Have another Talking Mats trained observer present if possible to support and evaluate the session with you.
- Make sure you use terminology that the child is familiar with, and use language that the child would use themselves e.g. when describing body parts.
Talking Mats are often used by people working within the justice system, including registered intermediaries – here is the link to one of our previous blog posts for more information: https://www.talkingmats.com/talking-mats-used-court/.
In this work you must be clear about the different stages of safeguarding and follow the procedures within your organisation. Disclosure and investigation are two different phases. The Keeping Safe resource has been trialled and tested to support people to raise concerns. https://www.talkingmats.com/keeping-safe-a-new-talking-mats-resource-available-to-purchase/ . When a disclosure moves to the investigation phase you may have to personalize the mat to fit the situation but what is key is that you keep the options open and non-leading.
For further information about accessing one of our Talking Mats Foundation Training Courses across the UK, and our ‘Keeping Safe’ Advanced course, see our training options here https://www.talkingmats.com/training/
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.
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 email@example.com for more information.
Huge thanks to all the practitioners who have sent us guest blogs. We selected our 10 favourite guest blogs…in no particular order!
- 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.
- 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.
- Talking Mats for capacity assessments in people with ASD/LD Ruth Spilman, Senior SLT from The Cambian Group, shares practical tips on assessing capacity.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- How do you feel about starting school? The story of 4 year old twins and their thoughts about starting school.
- 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.
Many thanks to Nicola Lewis from London who has sent us this powerful blog. She has 2 roles – one as a Registered Intermediary with adults with learning disabilities and the other as a family mediator working with children.
I started work as an intermediary, assisting vulnerable people to communicate their evidence to the police and in court. I work with adults with a mild to moderate learning disabilities or mental health issues and with children. The Talking Mats tool has proved invaluable, initially as a rapport building exercise which enables me to build a connection with the person. At the same time I can assess their communication in an informal way. I notice that it is often a relief for those who don’t want to talk as they can just engage in moving the pictures around, without having to make eye contact or without having to speak.They do often start chatting, in spite of themselves as there are not many people who don’t like to talk about their likes, dislikes and preferences and to be heard about what is important to them. I use active listening: reflecting back what they say, summarising, reframing and a touch of humour if appropriate to build a connection, using the mat. When they see me the next time, they often remember me in connection with the Talking Mat:”oh yeah, we did that picture thing!”
I also work as a family mediator and have a specialist qualification enabling me to meet with the children of the family to discuss their wishes and feelings. Again, the Talking Mats tool is the first thing out of my bag and on the table. After working through likes and dislikes in a natural and informal way, I can then use the cards with the children and ask about “your family”, “where you live” etc to find out about how they are managing in a divorce situation and what they might want their parents to know about their feelings. Many mediators will only meet with older children. The Talking Mats tool has given me access to the thoughts of those as young as 5. They are at ease with me and there is a level of trust that did not exist when they entered the room.I have had 100% positive feedback from these meetings as a result.
Thanks for developing this amazing tool. It is incredibly useful to me in both my roles.
Please send us any other stories you would like to share
Thanks to Karen Wilson, a specialist teacher and one of our accredited trainers, who describes how Talking Mats can help in supporting Looked After Children in having their say.
‘I work as Principal Teacher for children with additional support needs in a mainstream secondary school. In supporting a wide range of children and young people, I am frequently involved in Looked After Children reviews. These reviews can be quite daunting for an adult, as all agencies involved with the young person are represented, along with their carers and their support agencies. I can’t imagine what it must feel like as the child.
Many of these young people find it difficult to express their views, partly because of the circumstances they find themselves in and partly because many of them have communication difficulties linked to their early experiences. I have been struck by how little information is often contained in their Having Your Say form. This should be one of the key ways for young people to express their views and is completed in advance of the review.
I recently used a Talking Mat to help a young person complete her ‘Having Your Say’ form. The young person reported that it was much easier to engage in the process and told me that she had enjoyed doing it. She normally does not like filling in the form. All of those involved in the review expressed surprise and delight at how much more information it was possible to get using a Talking Mat.
I am now working with Talking Mats to explore how this idea can be developed to give more of our Looked After young people a stronger voice in decisions which directly affect them.’
My name is Karin Torgny, I’m from Sweden. My background is in journalism and culture studies. I used to work in “The Development Centre for Double Exposure” for many years, and our mission was to improve and spread knowledge about violence against women with disabilities. My special interest during these years was AAC. Today I work for Unicef and in different projects on human rights issues.
A year ago I did my accredited Talking Mats training in Stirling, Scotland. Since then I have given my first course in using Talking Mats when talking about abuse and harm. It was a great experience and an opportunity to work with an enthusiastic group of women who were open and willing to communicate using symbols. They are all in an organisation working with girls/women with intellectual disability exposed to violence and oppression in the name of honour.
I think Talking Mats is a good tool when approaching difficult subjects and I hope to run more courses like this in Sweden in the future. Lately I was interviewed on the Swedish Radio and talked about the use and possibilities with Talking Mats when someone is exposed to harm and abuse.
For those who know Swedish (!), here is a link to that program, http://t.sr.se/1mxZv9W
I am also curious if someone else is doing something similar. If so I would be interested to know more. Send an e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have a look at how Talking Mats has been used in Scotland to support people with a learning disability to disclose issues of concern: Survivor Scotland