Safeguarding/Play Therapy

Safeguarding/Play Therapy: Play, the Creative Arts and Communication: Visual Strategies

This has been collated from information from the SCIE (Social Care Institute for Excellence) learning course that I have taken; this information has been re: written in my own words so copyright has not been infringed.

I wanted to share it with you all so we can all learn effectively and give the best care we can give.

Visual images can be used by social workers, teachers or carers in an effective number of ways with children and young people, which can help and aid their emotional development when dealing with complex feelings that they may not be able to communicate clearly through speech. This is relevant in the cases of safeguarding children, supporting them – this follows on from the first blog of

Safeguarding/Play Therapy: Play, the Creative Arts and Communication

Visual imagery has many positive aspects to aid:

  • Diagrams help explain things clearly
  • Assessment tools make sense of children’s experience and give a clearer understanding for the carer
  • Through artwork, young people can express themselves
  • It is a relaxed way of engaging with the child for the carer


The carer or worker can give pictures firstly to aid the development and their emotional clarity but how do we make sense of the images children create themselves?

Children’s images are more metaphorical in nature rather than a literal representation.

They tend to come from an overlapping of their inner and outer worlds, a blend of fantasy and reality. E.G. children might be more likely to show their experience of abuse through making a messy, abstract image rather than drawing what has happened to them” (Case and Dalley, 1990).

So we should avoid interpretation but use our observation tools to understand and work with the child.

There are two main ways of using visual imagery when working with children, these are:

  • Structured/focused/directive tools and exercises
  • Unstructured/non-directive activities

Structured/Focused/Directive Tools are rather helpful:

a) When working within short time frames and you need to make an assessment – Use of trust, patience and creativity to find out what has happened with the child

b) When explaining something difficult to a child that they may find hard to comprehend – using a diagram may help to explain right or wrong scenarios

c) When you are working with the child to put in place a particular intervention – rating scales


Non-directive/ unstructured are rather helpful:

a) When a wider assessment of the child’s needs, background, concerns etc. is needed – use of observation

b) When engaging children who are socially wary, distant or angry – observe, assess and differentiate ways in which to engage with them

c) When allowing children to broaden their own awareness through creativity that isn’t prescribed – more individualised


Scales – (often used by Doctors, Nurses when asking about pain)

Rating scales “are a concrete, visual and engaging way of helping a child or young person to establish what they think about things and to convey this to you.” (SCIE,2013)

  • So first draw a line across a piece of paper
  • Number 0 -10 on either end of line and engage the child by asking them to indicate where on the line how much they want to do something
  • Or use words instead of numbers e.g. very scared – excited/happy – this can be when asking them about events, home situations, projects
  • Ask if they would change their answer at other times
  • What can we do together to change your position on the line to be more positive? Make you happier? Enjoy the task more?
  • Use of the Facial expressions link below can identify visually how a child feels about something



Eco-maps are a great and easy way for children of all ages and abilities to visualise themselves in relation to their environment, community and relationships – this can aid self esteem, their understanding of the world, it helps show the carer how they value themselves and others as well as certain interests and importance’s.

  • Write the child’s name in the middle of a large sheet of paper
  • Get the child to identify important people or organisations and place their names in circles on the page. Those who the child feels are most important to him should be drawn the closest.
  • Draw different types of line to indicate the nature of the link or relationship
  • Or get the child to indicate these by placing cut-out images from magazines or postcards, buttons or figurines to represent their perspective. Aim here to have lots of variety of images to choose from.


Non-directive imagery and artwork

Using artwork and lots of different resources to allow children to freely express themselves through their own work can allow for children to understand and connect with their inner thoughts in ways that are possibly easier for a majority of people; as it doesn’t involve words. We need to provide a safe space with plenty of art materials, give them time and encouragement and this can help them to process and make sense of some of these experiences. It allows you as a practitioner or carer to create a broader assessment of their concerns or difficulties through observation.

  • Choose a safe space with uninterrupted time
  • Provide a selection of materials e.g. pens, paints, paper, magazines, glue, sparkly bits etc
  • Give the child space to draw, paint, colour, stick etc
  • Support them in their work rather than interpreting it – encouragement


This way of communicating isn’t very easy and so carers or teachers must involve themselves fully with the individual and so engage in a positive relationship… “if this approach is to work; a distanced professionalism will not be enough” (SCIE, 2013).

As a practitioner we must have the personal qualities needed to engage and identify with children in a professional yet friendly manner. Knowledge, skill, playfulness, creativity, fun, real and emotionally warm – all need to be apparent with play therapy!

It is important to remember not to do more than your skill allows you – you cannot provide the support needed by the child if you are not qualified to deal with that issue – it could do more harm to the child even though you have the best intentions

Additional training within these skills and techniques as a primary method need to be explored

You should see the play or art forms as “bridges to open up communication with children who are finding it hard to express themselves and engage with others at a direct or verbal level”

(Lefevre, 2008, p.130)




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