Language guide challenges care system jargon

By Gabriella Jozwiak

| 06 March 2019

"What are peers?", "What are neets?" and "Why do social workers call my home a placement?" are among the questions flagged by young people who helped produce a new publication that challenges jargon used in the care system.

A glossary called "Language That cares" aims to change the way professionals talk about children in care. Image: TACT

Children and young people in care have told a fostering and adoption charity that such terms used by professionals are too complex or stigmatise them.

The research has informed a glossary called Language That Cares, produced by The Adolescent and Children's Trust (Tact).

Produced alongside workers at 14 local authorities and the children aged from 11 up to older care leavers they support, the glossary suggests alternative words that it hopes all professionals working with children and young people will begin to use.

Young people from Warwickshire told the charity social workers should say "unemployed" or "not in training or in education", rather than labelling young people as "Neet".

"'Neet' is a silly word, no young person knows what it means yet we are called it," they said.

Young person Ashleigh, who helped write the guide, told the charity the word "peers" had left her puzzled. Instead, the guide suggests professionals say "friends".

"When I was a child, my social worker would always call my friends peers, but I didn't really know what peers were at the time, and I'd never really heard anyone use that word before," she said.

The term "placement" was also widely disliked. Young people said "home" or "my house" was better.

"Placement sounds like you are being forced to live there," said a young person supported by Tact.

"This should be a word used more for a temporary placement, not when you see it as your home and have been there a long time," said a young person from York.

Children also disliked being referred to as "LAC" (looked-after children), preferring to be called by their names or "our children", while they wanted the term "PEP" for personal education plan to be used less.


A film by charity Tact, which promotes the interests of children in care

Young people from Rotherham told Tact: "It is not about the word ‘PEP' itself, it is how it is presented in school.

"Some teachers openly announce in class that the LAC student has a PEP meeting and this will arouse the interest from the rest of students, leaving the looked-after student to explain what it is and why they have it."

Tact chief executive Andy Elvin said that using language approved by children would empower them during their experience of being in care.

"Language is a powerful tool for communication but sometimes the way that it is used in social care creates barriers for understanding," he said.

Tact plans to circulate the guide among all local authorities and other professionals working in children's services.

It will also produce updated editions in the future as language and children's needs adapt.

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