Opening doors
: enabling children’s communication in legal contexts

  • Ruth Marchant

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This commentary presents original knowledge about children’s communication and rights, developed across 25 years. It draws together learning from direct work with more than 1,000 children giving evidence at investigative interview and/or trial.1 It combines this with knowledge built from trying to understand and apply others’ theories and research,2 and from endeavouring to teach professionals how to communicate differently with children.

The over-arching theme of this work is how to enable children’s communicative competence so that they can give their best (most accurate, complete and coherent) evidence in criminal or family proceedings. I believe these are powerful mechanisms through which to safeguard children, to reposition them as competent communicators and active agents in society and to challenge dominant perceptions of children as vulnerable, passive, incompetent and silent victims. My focus is specifically on very young children and those with complex communication needs, but much of the knowledge is relevant for all children: “getting things right for children with complex needs will improve practice
with all children” (Marchant, 2010a, p.200).3

The commentary is organised thematically, with each of the seven themes linking my published work to the wider literature and outlining its significance and contribution to knowledge. ‘Knowledge’ is defined broadly, to include innovative strategies for direct work with children and original ways of
teaching and practicing, as well as more abstract ideas and concepts. A wide definition is also taken of publications, to include published papers, chapters, books, guidance, films, training materials, communication resources, apps and websites. The first two themes - children’s rights and creating safer contexts - locate the knowledge within a wider framework. The next four themes relate directly to enabling children’s communication in legal contexts: assessment approaches; helping children understand; helping children explain; trauma and state regulation. The last theme connects this knowledge to practice development and teaching.
Date of AwardFeb 2018
Original languageEnglish
SupervisorBecky Milne (Supervisor)

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