How do you give information? When it comes to informing children and young people of what they need to know, the medium really is the message, says Sarah Smith

BEING A PATIENT in the NHS is like being a stranger in a foreign country. It has its own food, language and customs, clans and chiefs. It can be frightening, confusing and alienating for adults, let alone children visiting a hospital or GP’s surgery. To understand what is happening to us, we need help. Maps or a guide can help us get around. The right booklet or website can help to reassure and support us, explain the facts and give us the knowledge needed to make decisions. We all need information to make sense of our circumstances and surroundings – and for children and young people it is no different. This year marks the 25th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which enshrines a child’s right ‘to seek, receive and impart information’. This anniversary is an opportunity to reflect on the information that we provide to children. Does it reassure, inform and empower, and does it help children to make the choices that matter to them? It is now widely understood that children have a right to be informed, consulted, involved and heard. But health information is, in some respects, still playing catch-up. Although there are some

‘Information works best when it is part of a conversation involving health professionals, family, school and peers’ 14 October 2014 | Volume 26 | Number 8

great resources out there, there are some poor ones too, and it is by no means certain that every child will get the information they need, in the right place, at the right time and in the right format. Provision is patchy and quality variable and, sadly, many children and parents are let down. Children need information that is specifically for them. Getting information across about sensitive and complex health matters is challenging, but it is possible to do it well, if it is done in an age-appropriate way. Producing and providing the right information is a skill. One way to develop a skill is to learn from the work of others. Outstanding examples The Patient Information Forum (PiF) has launched a guide to producing information for children and young people. It highlights some outstanding examples of information for children produced by the voluntary sector, commercial producers and the NHS. It focuses on the practical aspects of creating good health information – involving children, choosing the right format, and writing suitably for children. It covers use of stories and play, social media and apps and the use of the internet. Technology has opened up a new world of opportunities to create appealing and easily accessible information. The growth of digital and social media offers opportunities to present information in a fun and engaging way, but there are risks too. Although social media is an increasingly familiar format, not everyone

has access to this form of communication or is comfortable using it. There are also issues about maintaining confidentiality and safety, which cannot be dismissed. Yet for the current generation of children social media has become a way of life. Remember that more traditional formats can work just as well and a storybook, comic or sticker chart might be just what a child needs. The guide also emphasises the importance of information being communicated and supported well by health professionals and by parents. Information works best when it is part of a conversation, and for that the involvement and support of family, school and peers is vital. Nothing can replace that human element, especially for children. Finally, it is important to be led by children themselves. One of the case studies in the guide is from a secure mental health unit for young people, who came up with the script for the resource, took photographs and helped with the layout. The result is a simple comic that does not need high literacy levels or long periods of concentration. It works because it is userled and co-produced, and it addresses the most important issues for the users. Can you say the same about your information? PiF’s Guide to Producing Health Information for Children and Young People is available at childrens-guide Sarah Smith is operations director of the Patient Information Forum NURSING CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

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How do you give information?

BEING A PATIENT in the NHS is like being a stranger in a foreign country. It has its own food, language and customs, clans and chiefs. It can be frigh...
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