Communicating with children with complex and exceptional healthcare needs

Improving communication between professionals and children and their families was identified as a priority by the parents in the NMCN CEN Service Users Group. A DVD and workshop was developed to start the discussion about anxieties, insecurities, or lack of experience that some members of staff might have in communicating with children who do not use speech.

For professionals using this Pathway we would recommend that you view the DVD, even if you have been working with children with complex and exceptional health needs for many years it will give an opportunity to reflect on your practice. You can read more and view the film here.

Principles of good practice

When meeting a child/young person:

         Do not assume that the child/young person will be ‘used’ to being in hospital or in a clinic


         Acknowledge that being in hospital or in a clinic may be distressing


         Introducing yourself directly to the child/young person by name and by profession and explaining what your professional title means

         Addressing the child/young person’s parent or carer directly


         Asking the parent or carer if there is anything specific you need to know about the child/young person’s communication


         If both parents are present ensure that you address each of them and check that there is a shared understanding of the concerns and/or what information you share


         Asking what might be the best way to communicate in terms of your position e.g. ‘Would it be best if I crouch down by your child’s wheelchair?’


         Having full regard to what you are told and referring to it when speaking to the child/young person e.g. ‘I understand that if you don’t like something you will look away’


         Describing what you are going to do and why and pitching this at an age appropriate level and adopt an age appropriate tone for example:


            I am going to look at your gastrostomy site as there seems to be an infection’ (14 yr old)

            I am going to look at your tummy as it seems to be sore’ (6 yr old)

Useful web sites:

Useful documents: