Centre for Social Work Innovation and Research

Putting Kitbag to Work

Building emotional and social literacy in children, families and social workers.

“I would like to use these Kitbags to really explore the feelings of the child from the inside out as opposed to the outside in. By allowing them to use open-ended play exploration it allows the communication on to be on their terms and it allows them to take the lead and shows us, the social worker, what they want us to know instead of us guessing what they want to tell us.”

“I’m going to use the Kitbag for myself in the car before and after visits or meetings. I am hoping this will clear my mind and reset me.”

The quotes above come from feedback forms which followed a Talking and Listening to Children Kitbag  session with local authority social workers. They sum up exactly how Kitbag is intended to be used in social work settings. Firstly, the intention behind Kitbag is to help develop the social and emotional literacy and wellbeing of children through listening to the child’s voice. Secondly - and inextricably linked to the child-centred focus of Kitbag - is its ability to support the emotional and social wellbeing of professionals, too. Combined, the two intentions behind Kitbag speak to the development of our ‘psychological capacity’ in the face of the complex, challenging and uncertain times in which we live.

And of course this focus is of importance, now more than ever, as we adjust to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. Let me expand…

Child-led and focussed practice

All too often, the outcomes-driven focus of practice means social workers feel constrained by the need to gather certain types of evidence to inform their assessments or justify their on-going involvement with a child. As a result the child’s perspective on their circumstances risks getting lost as the bureaucratic demands of risks-averse societal and organisational contexts shape everyday practice encounters. To resist these powerful systemic dynamics social workers need to adjust how they see themselves in relation to children and most importantly trust that, provided the worker is willing to listen, the child is able to tell the social worker how s/he is feeling.

Here is a beautiful testimonial from a newly qualified social worker’s early experience of using Kitbag with a child:

"Just wanted to send a little feedback about my first session with the kitbag.

I used this with Bella (pseudonym) who is 8 years old. I took it out on my first home visit with her and mum to get mum’s approval to use the calming oil. Both were keen on using this in school and Bella had a look through all the bits and was thinking how we could use these.

Visited in school and Bella remembered the kit. The mindfulness bit with oil, presence cards and timer worked really well to ‘reset’ us for the session. Bella said it made her feel really calm (it helped me too!).  She liked the puppets and we both picked one to sit next to us. We went through the cards and Bella said she wanted to pick some for her and then I could pick some. She knew what they all meant and was confident in picking some she could explain. After I had picked some she then asked to pick some for mum, mum has been really ill from drinking, but things are getting better. Bella  picked some which showed this, such as energy and courage, and then some such as trust and hope that helped her share that mum has had a slip up with drink again.

I was then able to share this with mum in the CIN meeting which was really powerful to share the good things, and the ongoing worries and to help mum understand that Bella was sharing this rather than being directly asked about her drinking."

Bella  would like us to use this in the summer holidays at home with mum so that’s my next plan.

Tucked into this account - ‘(it helped me too!)’ – is the link to Kitbag’s second intention: supporting practitioners in their practice by addressing their individual, and the overall organisation’s, wellbeing.

Building workforce wellbeing and emotionally literate organisations 

Kitbag is part of the wider work of the International Futures Forum (IFF), a Scottish charity that created Kitbag, which is committed to a transformative agenda across the public sector:

International Futures Forum (IFF) aims to help people deal more effectively with today's uncertain, complex and challenging world. One of our concerns has been the pandemic of mental distress. Across countries and cultures, rapid change and many concurrent pressures are leading to high levels of anxiety and depression, sleep problems, self-harm, suicide and addictions of many kinds.

Excerpt from a blog ”How does Kitbag work?” by Dr Margaret Hannah, Director of Health Programmes at IFF

Interestingly, IFF used the term 'pandemic' here well before the Covid-19 pandemic took hold.

In the workshops, we invite participants to think as creatively and inclusively as they can about how Kitbag can be part of all aspects of their professional working lives. In several other professional settings where Kitbag has been introduced, practitioners have taken to using it as a focus at the beginning of meetings to encourage everyone involved to become aware of their current emotional state in order to enable their full engagement in that particular context. Team meetings are an ideal space where Kitbag could be used to build emotional awareness within the team.

We’ve recently received Higher Education Impact Fund monies to provide all social workers and foster carers in two local authorities with Kitbags. We’re keen to see how this wholesale take-up of Kitbag within an organisation can make a significant contribution to enhancing the child-centred-focus, emotional and social literacy and wellbeing of whole organisations.

Watch this space!