Using solution-focused practice with children and young people

Louise Bazalgette gives practitioners tips on using an approach that focuses on achieving a young person’s goals

Girl sitting on a sofaWe started using solution-focused practice in our Face to Face service in 2011. The service worked with children in care or on the edge of care who had poor emotional wellbeing. It helped them identify what changes they could make to improve their life using a solution-focused approach. The service was led by each child or young person - they set their own targets and decided on the timing and location of the sessions.

The NSPCC has a strategy of developing and delivering services to learn about what works to protect children from harm or to help them to recover. The Face to Face service has now finished, and we published its evaluation in 2015.

The evaluation showed promising evidence that a solution-focused approach can be beneficial to children in care, or on the edge of care, who are experiencing problems in their lives. It also showed that this service was successful in involving and engaging children who had a problem in their life they wanted help with.

We’ve picked 10 top tips to share, about how to use solution-focused practice successfully with children and young people. These tips were developed with input from our children’s services practitioners and feedback from the children and young people they worked with.


Explain what a solution-focused approach is

At the beginning of the process, it’s helpful to explain to the child or young person what the solution-focused approach involves, and the journey of discovery you’ll be going on together. Using worksheets and drawing exercises can help break the ice.

Get to know the child or young person’s likes and dislikes

Every child is different and will have different likes and dislikes. Start by getting to know them and finding out about their interests. It might be shopping, rap music or characters from the latest Disney movie. Incorporating their interests into your work together shows them that you listened.

Explore the child or young person’s strengths

Explore the child or young person’s strengths to help them see themselves in a different, more resourceful and positive light. This might include exercises like making strengths cards or a strengths shield. The children and young people we interviewed as part of our evaluation told us they really valued this aspect of the work.

Help the child or young person to identify the outcome they want to achieve

When the child or young person defines their ‘best hopes’ for the work, help them to frame this in a positive way (e.g. ‘I’d like to have more friends’ rather than ‘I want to stop feeling lonely’). This will help them to move away from the problem and think about how they’d like their life to be instead. You could help them articulate their hopes through a drawing exercise, role play or making spider diagrams.

Help the child or young person describe what their ‘best hope’ life will be like

Help the child or young person to describe in detail what their life will be like when their best hopes have come true - this may be harder for some children than others. Exercises that children and young people might find helpful include making a ‘miracle day’ drawing; using a crystal ball colouring sheet; making a scene in a sand tray; or writing a letter to themselves from the future. You may need to negotiate if the child’s best hopes are initially outside the scope of what can be influenced by your work together.

Always prepare a back-up option! 

The great activity you planned might not work when you try it out with the child or young person. And even if it worked with one child, another may not find it so engaging. So always have something else prepared as a standby.

Use scaling techniques

A big part of the work is helping the child or young person to think about what they are already doing to move towards their goals and how close they are getting to where they want to be. You can get really creative here and make the scaling concept lots of fun: climbing stairs, kicking footballs, popping balloons or lining up shiny buttons. Once they get the idea, they can design their own scale.

Start each session by reflecting on the child or young person’s progress

A lot of the child’s best work may happen in between sessions. Start each session reflecting on all the progress they have made since your last meeting. You could record this progress with an achievement wall or a scrap book. This could become a great memento once your work together ends.

Identify a solution team

A solution team is made up of the people who can support the child in reaching their goals. Who does the child or young person have in their life who can help them move toward the future they want? This could help to reassure them that they will not be on their own once the work you’re doing with them ends. Try painting a ‘helping hand’ or making a social network map.

Celebrate the child or young person’s achievements

When the child or young person is satisfied with the progress they’ve made toward their goals, they will be ready for their work to end. Ask them if they want to invite anybody from their solution team to their last session, to celebrate their achievements. Foster carers we interviewed in our evaluation told us they could see positive changes in the young people we worked with, and they welcomed opportunities to get involved.

Conclusion

We’ve developed a free solution-focused practice toolkit, made up of the exercises our Face to Face practitioners found most useful. It includes activities and templates you can use or adapt with children, as well as guidance about solution-focused techniques.

To find out more about what we learnt from delivering Face to Face, have a look at our evaluation. We also published an implementation guide to help others who would like to offer a service like Face to Face.

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