[045.18] Readability in Social Work Intervention- A necessary discussion

A recent OFSTED’s monitoring inspection of children’s services in Birmingham has raised some concerns about the language used in child protection conferences and how difficult it may be, for parents and children, to understand what is written there. OFSTED classified the language as being opaque and complicated.

Earlier this year, Surviving Safeguarding (a social work trainer and mother who has gone through care proceedings) published an article on CommunityCare where she talks about how the language we use in our documents, paperwork or in our daily practice can create barriers between children, families and the system. She also refers to another article that warned that children in care “are being bullied and singled out as they adopt “social work jargon” into their everyday language”. 

In this article, she states, 

Fiona Duncan, chair of the Independent Review of Scotland’s Care System, backed by Duncan Dunlop, chief executive of the advocacy charity for care experienced young people Who Cares? Scotland, called for an immediate end to social workers talking to children in this way.

“Workers just don’t think”, Dunlop states.

This subject is also been part of some very interesting tweets in the last few months and this made me think about some research that I have done in the past (for example the presentation I did in the World Social Work Conference in Brazil, back in 2008) about readability, and how important the use of this method/formulas can be, to assure that the documents and/or pamphlets that we usually create to “help” our clients are really written for them and that it can be fully understood, especially when  we are so keen to say that our practice is “client-centred” and “client-focused” and how much we want our clients to be part of all the social work process and intervention

I think I will return to this tool, and use it for some pieces of research very soon…


  1. I think the idea of readability in social work is very interesting. It is true that the care e experienced young person and adult has a different vocabulary. It is ridiculous that this should be the case. When I had 11a Corve Lane children’s home I tried very hard to reduce the technical language in everything we did but it was very difficult because others felt that to use “family” language diminished what we were doing as professionals.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment, and I totally agree with you.
      The question that we need to make is: For who are we producing these documents? If I’m writing a scientific article I will be happy with the language. But, if I am writing a document in a RCH context (for example) and I want to involve (as we should) the CYP (and family) in the whole process, I need to have that in mind…

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