SCOPE OF THIS CHAPTER
This chapter provides guidance on using appropriate and unambiguous touch as a form of positive communication between an adult and child.
This Guidance should be read in conjunction with the following:
Children's Bedrooms Procedures - to follow
This chapter has been reviewed and updated in December 2020 where required.
The following guidance has been written with substantial extracts from a practice guide produced by the Social Care Association: 'Touch, A Discussion Paper for Developing a Positive Management Strategy'.
The term 'Touch' is used throughout this procedure in two different contexts.
Touch as a form of Physical Intervention designed to prevent a child or others from being injured or to protect property from being damaged; and the use of Touch to enable staff/carers to demonstrate affection, acceptance and reassurance.
Guidance is provided elsewhere on the use of touch as a form of physical intervention; see Behaviour Management Guidance.
This chapter provides guidance on the latter, relating to the demonstration of affection, acceptance and reassurance.
It is acknowledged that touch raises particular issues for those working with children. Staff/carers may be anxious about allegations of inappropriate physical contact with children.
However, touch is acceptable; but staff/carers should consider the following:
2. Children's Background and Plans
The child may have had particular experiences, which make it difficult to accept touch from an adult; or the child's experiences may lead to a need for more touch than is acceptable.
It is therefore important for carers to obtain information about the child's background before acting in any way, not just in terms of the use of touch.
If there are particular needs that the child has or if it appears that the child may respond more or less favourably to touch, this must be reflected in the planning process.
Dependent on the age and level of understanding of the child, s/he should be involved in this assessment and planning; and should be encouraged to consent to being touched; or to place conditions on it.
3. The Culture, the Boundaries
The culture or values of the home should be such that touch is encouraged as a positive and safe way of communicating affection, warmth, acceptance and reassurance.
Carers and children should be encouraged to use touch, positively and safely.
But it is important for carers and children to know if boundaries exist within the home or for individual children and that they are clearly documented to ensure no ambiguity.
If boundaries or expectations exist for individual children they should be set out in their Care Plan, Placement Plan or other relevant Plan.
If boundaries or expectations exist for the home, applying to groups of staff/carers and children, they should be clear. For example, if staff/carers are not expected to allow children to sit on their laps, or to carry children, this should be stated, preferably in writing.
In the absence of any plan or expectation, the following should be taken into consideration
- When thinking about who is an appropriate person to positively touch a child, it is vital to consider what the adult represents to the particular child. Personal likes and dislikes will play a part in any relationship;
- In addition, many factors influence the power relationship between adult and child, including gender, race, disability, age, sexual identity and role status;
- The background of the child will also influence any decision about who represents a 'safe' adult in the eyes of the child;
- Children from ethnic minority backgrounds may be used to different types of touch as part of the culture;
- Children who have been subject to physical or sexual abuse may be suspicious or fearful of touch. This is not to say that children who have experienced abuse should not be touched, it may be beneficial for the child to know different, safer and more reliable adults who will not use touch as a form of abuse;
- For each child, what constitutes an intimate part of the body will vary; but generally speaking it is acceptable to touch children's hands, arms, shoulders. It may be appropriate to hug or cuddle children;
- Other parts of the body are less appropriate to be touched, by degrees. Some parts of the body are 'no go areas';
- Therefore, it may be appropriate to touch a child's back, or ruffle their hair if the child indicates such touch is acceptable. To go beyond this would be unacceptable, even if the child appeared to accept it;
- In any case, no part of the body should be touched if it were likely to generate sexualised feelings on the part of the adult or child;
- Also, no part of the body should be touched in a way that appears to be patronising or intrusive;
- Therefore, the context in which positive touch takes place is usually a decisive factor in determining the emotional and physical safety for both parties;
- What message is being sent out to the child? If the intention is to positively and safely communicate affection, warmth, acceptance and reassurance it is likely to be acceptable;
- A fleeting or clumsy touch may confuse a child or may feel uncomfortable or even cause distress. Staff should positively touch with confidence, and should verbalise their affection, reassurance and acceptance; by touching and making positive comments. For example, by touching a child's arm and saying "Well Done";
- Where children indicate that positive touch is unwelcome staff/carers should back off and apologise if necessary;
- Carers should talk to colleagues and record their interactions with children. If particular Strategies work, or not, colleagues should be informed so they can build on or avoid making the same mistake;
- Touch of an equally positive and safe nature is acceptable between staff/carers; it demonstrates positive role models for children and shows that adults can get along and use touch in non-abusive or threatening ways;
- It is also acceptable to talk about how positive touch feels, about acceptable boundaries and expectations;
- Play fighting is no alternative for this. It is unacceptable;
- The key is for carers to help children experience and benefit from touch, positively and safely; as a way of communicating affection, warmth, acceptance and reassurance.