Final Free Extract of the Week

Hello Friday! Here’s another exclusive entry for you from ‘Observing Children and Families’. Gill Butler addresses the inability to correctly observe and diagnose every situation.


Whilst there are no easy answers and there will continue to be occasions when we are unable to see and understand what is happening in a family, these difficulties can perhaps best be addressed by a systematic approach to observation; seeing children over a period of time and, where appropriate, in different settings and with different carers.  Inadequate resources and time pressures may mean that this is difficult to achieve, in which case it needs to be acknowledged that the likelihood of properly understanding what it is like to be the child in the family is significantly diminished.

Top Tips for Observers!

Trevithick (2012) has developed a very helpful list of common errors when observing (Figure 4.1).

  1. Failing to see the significance of what we are observing due to……..
  1. Failing to link our observations to what is known about the behaviour, situation, or individual in question…
  1. Being unaware of our assumptions and preconceptions
  1. Failing to give adequate importance to factors that may give rise to certain behaviour, reactions or events
  1. Being imprecise or woolly in our account of the behaviour or events we observe
  1. Generalising behaviour in ways that may not be accurate, for example, what occurs at one time, in one setting may not occur in other settings, or at other times.
  1. Being too hasty in our need to draw conclusions from our observations
  1. Assuming that the agreement of others implies accuracy and valid inferences have been formulated (groupthink).

The following list draws on Trevithick’s work and the points made previously in this book providing ‘dos’ rather than ‘don’ts’:

  • Be aware of the impact of our own identity, assumptions and preconceptions.
  • Recognise the significance of what we observe and be prepared to examine what this means.
  • Link observations to what is already known about the behaviour, situation, or individual in question. If it does not seem to fit, explore why.
  • Recognise the importance of factors that may give rise to certain behaviour, reactions or events.
  • Be precise, detailed and specific in our accounts of what we observe.
  • Recognise that what occurs at one time, in one setting may not be occurring in other settings, or at other times, or when we are not present.
  • Always adopt a systematic approach to observation and seek to triangulate what we have learned from observing (see chapter three)
  • Stay with uncertainty and maintain openness to new possibilities as new information emerges and situations change.
  • If what we have observed leads to us to feel uncomfortable or concerned when others are not, we need to seek further evidence, before we let go of our view.


The examples above show the wide range of ways in which observations may enrich practice, in relation to both assessment and interventions. Where practitioners feel confident and are able to use observation as part of a transparent, planned dimension of their practice it has the greatest potential to shine light on the realities of lived experience, for both the observer and the observed. As one practitioner said:

It’s a wonderful tool in our hectic world. Practitioners should all have that opportunity

While observation is a wonderful tool, providing space to listen to what children want to tell us and checking out their views about what has been observed is also essential, with any child who is able to do so.

So here comes the sad end of what has been a great week of extracts from Gill Butler’s eagerly awaited ‘Observing Children and Families’ title. Please visit our website for more details, more free space and more fun!

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