Child Observation In: Emily’s Case

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Within the UK Child and family social workers have a statutory duty under the Children Act (1989) to promote the welfare of all children (section 17) and protect children from significant harm (section 47). Harm is defined within the Children Act (1989), means ill-treatment or the impairment of health or development (section 31). Therefore, for social workers to be able to protect children from all harm it is important for social workers to have a good understanding of child development and how to recognise when a child’s development is being impaired. A research completed by the Department for Education (2010) social workers disclosed that throughout their professional training there had been limited attention on the child’s development. Further research in 2011 investigated six serious case reviews and found that a lack of child development understanding may have had an impact on the response from the social workers (Department for Education, 2011).

To help gain a more in-depth child development knowledge, I conducted five – 45-minute observations of a child who I deemed to be within a good family home with no additional needs or any social services involvement. For the purpose of this essay I will name them The Craig Family. I will begin to explore the Craig family and their social Graces, these are different aspects of a person’s lives that make them the person that they are (Krause, 2018).

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The family come from an area that is classed as a deprived area with lots of social housing. The child Is a 7-year-old girl who for the purpose of this essay I will call her Emily. Emily attends a local public school and is in year 3. Emily’s parents are Katie and Aaron (again names have been changed). Katie is within full time education and has a part time weekend job. Aaron works full time on a night shift basis. They live within an apartment block in privately rented accommodation. Katie was born in Ireland and moved to England when she was 7 years old and attended a public school within England, Katie comes from a Roman Catholic background and has a strong faith. Aaron was born in England and has lived in the same area all his life; Aarons family have no religious background. The family have chosen to bring Emily up with a Roman Catholic faith and attend church on a regular basis. Katie has educated Emily on her Irish heritage also her father’s English heritage. Katie and Aaron were young parents and had Emily when they were in the early 20’s, both parents had completed primary and secondary education, Emily’s mother Katie has continued her education in university and is now on a PGCE course training to become a teacher. Emily’s parents described that Emily had a ‘normal’ upbringing with a large family support network supporting both the parents also Emily.

All my observations were completed on zoom (online), this was due to COVID-19. My local area the Craig’s area were in local lockdowns during the time I needed to complete my observations. This meant that you were not allowed to mix households. We agreed to do the observations on Zoom as this was an app that we both had easy access to. This did add an increase challenge online as I didn’t want Emily to be watching the laptop in her house, however when Emily was playing Katie did have to keep moving the laptop to make sure that Emily was in view. It also made it difficult to fully be able to read the body language for the child and the family.

A summary of my observations

Observation Date Present Activity Duration

12th Oct 20 Emily, Katie and Myself (Virtual) Free playtime indoors 45 Minutes

15th Oct 20 Emily, Katie and myself (Virtual) Bedtime 40 Minutes

20th Oct 20 Emily, Katie and myself (Virtual) Breakfast and before school routine 40 minutes

22nd Oct 20 Emily, Katie and myself (Virtual) Free playtime outdoors 50 minutes

25th Oct 20 Emily, Katie and myself (Virtual) Family mealtime and movie 45 minutes

Detailed Analysis of My Child’s Observations

I now will be looking at my observations and will examine, critique and evaluate the different theories around child development. I will be looking at the Physical, behavioural, emotional and cognitive domains to help me to analyse Emily’s development. Although, I will be structuring my analysis by discussing the domains individually, it is believed that development within on domain is likely to impact in another domain and vice versa (Bartolotta & Shulman, 2010).

On my first visit with The Craig Family (Online), I observed Emily gain a better insight into Emily as a child. Emily is a 7-year-old girl who I believe to really enjoy playing with her toys. On one of my visits Emily was playing with some of her small world toys and create small worlds. Emily was comfortable playing on her own, however she would also engage with her mother, Katie to get her involved in the games. This allowed Emily and Katie to have some one on one time and engage with each other. Ginsburg (2007) discusses the importance of allowing children to play and states that ‘Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development’. Ginsburg also states the benefits of children and parents playing together, and how this creates a secure bond within the family home. It helps to form strong bonds between the family and helps with the child’s own self development. Play is a crucial part of a child’s development as it allows the child the freedom of their imagination and allows the parent to be able to join in with their imagination and create a fun and safe space for children. Play England discusses the negative impact that parents not playing with their child can have on the child’s development and mental health. If parents are not playing with their children, it can be argued that the child is at risk of heighted anxiety. As it doesn’t allow the child to interact with the parent on a fun level and only on a boundary maker level (Why play is important – Play England, n.d.). However, there is also evidence that suggests that play is not a crucial to healthy development of children, in 2009 a study was carried out in 16 different countries where mothers were asked to disclose if their children joined in with imaginative play. The study found that of the 16 countries that partook only five of the countries did the mothers admit that their children engaged with imaginative play regularly (Singer, Singer D’Agostino & Delong, 2009). This argues that allowing imagination play, plays a part within the child’s development. This could mean that Emily’s likelihood to engage in play could be due to another capability that she has already developed, rather than a way of Emily progressing her own development (Smith, 2010).

When children are first born, they are looking to their care giver to provide them with a level of care. Beyond this there is more than just providing the child with food, clothing, a cot etc. Children need to feel loved by their care givers. Children can get this by the simplest of things such as being spoken too by their parents. This not only allows the child to form attachments with their parents but also helps support their own development (Brazelton and Als, 1979). As children grown and they start to babble, if the child is being spoken to and having a lot of interaction with other people this will allow the child to begin to learn simple sounds and words, helping to form their cognitive development. Children will begin to pick things up from their parents i.e. if a parent says where Mum or Dad, they will begin to remember these things and helps them to explore. A resource from (All Together Now, n.d.) explores this further and states that a fundamental part of a child’s development is being spoken to by parents, without this it could lead to an unattachment from their care giver and also a delayed development. When observing Emily, I believe it could be seen that Emily had received a excellent level of this when she was a child, as she had learnt a good vocabulary and was curious about things for example Emily’s mum Katie had said ‘I’m going to set sail, in my boat’. Emily then asked her mum what she meant by set sail, this showed Emily was curious about things that she had not heard of before. Katie explained to Emily what she meant and then checked if Emily understood. Emily then used the phrase when playing herself. This again demonstrates how much children benefit from not only talking but playing with their parents. This allowed Emily to further her vocabulary and learn from her playing.

On one of my observations I observed Emily in the park with her mother. There were other children in the park as well as other adults. There is lots of research into the field of the importance of peer to peer learning. Engaged within peer activities for children can have many benefits, including understanding the world, reduced anxiety and learning skills to maintain relationships. This is something that will stay with a child for their life and is a skill that is required within adulthood (Gilmore and Meersand, 2015). Gilmore (2015) also discusses how children who are not allowed the opportunity to create friendships from a young age may be at a disadvantage to their peers and may be at risk of increased anxiety and lower self-esteem. Emily was confident in playing in the park with peers, some of whom she had never met before. Emily was joining in with the games and creating her own rules as part of the game. Emily was also aware where her mother was at all times. Emily kept looking back to see where Katie was and would go over to her every now and again to make sure she was still there. Smith, Cowie and Blades, (2015) discusses this as having a good understanding of the world and a part of every child’s development process as children are learning to go and be independent but they are aware that their care giver isn’t far away if they need them. Emily demonstrated a good understanding of this. Katie was happy for her daughter to be playing but equally Emily knew that her mother was only a few feet away if she should need her.

‘The securely attached child has learned that the best way to achieve this objective is to reveal in full their emotions and their ‘state of mind’ to the carer’ (Horwath and Platt, 2018).

Attachment was a theory that was first written about by John Bowlby in the 1950’s. John talks about the bond between a mother and a baby, how a baby sees the mother as the provider of food through breast feeding. This is the start of an ‘attachment’ for that child, they see that their mother provides them with the food in which they need and begin to feel dependant on her. (Holmes, 2014). This is an attachment that continues to grow over the development of the child and grows depending on the attention and love that is given to the child by their parents. When I was undertaking my observations, I was thinking about Bowlby’s theory of attachment, I could clearly see that Emily had a secure attachment to her Katie. This was shown by an event in the park. It began to get dark and rain, Katie told me that Emily had a fear of thunder. Emily came straight over to Katie and said ‘mom, id like to go home now I’m scared. I don’t want it to thunder.’ As Horwath and Platt discussed when talking about secure attachment, Emily could clearly tell her mother that she was scared and could describe her emotions. This is due to Emily feeling safe within her relationship with her mother, she was able to articulate how she was feeling. If Emily did not have a secure attachment with her mother, she may not have been able to tell her mother that she was scared which in turn would of led to Emily having increased anxiety and becoming withdrawn. However, in contrast to this although Emily did portray as a securely attached child there were incidents within my observations were Emily was left alone without her mother in the room and she did not appear to be distressed. Ainsworth (1970) stated that securely attached children do become distressed when their caregivers depart. While this could suggest that Emily is not completely securely attached, it could also be that some of her behaviours cannot solely be explained by attachment theory. Alternatively, it could be that Emily was not upset because Katie had walked into another room within the home and because Emily knew that where Katie was going it was still within a familiar place that Emily was aware of (Shafer and Kipp 2013).

Child Development and Different Values

When thinking about child development it is important to think about the way in which different values and cultures have a different perspective on the way in which children develop. Boyd and Bee, (2013) discuss this and use a simple example of toilet training. In some western countries the idea of babies using nappies is completely unheard of and begin a form of toilet training within the first few days of a baby’s life, however within the UK and many other countries this would not even be considered for most people and parents would follow the norm of babies using nappies etc. Within the UK there is a diverse mix of cultures and races however, it can be argued that child development theories are not inclusive of all cultures. Our perception of Child Development is set and many people do not differ from what they already know, which could create a space for discrimination or prejudice just because some families may not be following the child development model in which we are familiar with (Pence, 2011).

Self-Reflection on My Observations

When conducting my observations, I was aware of how I was reflecting to my own childhood. When I seen Emily playing with certain toys, I remembered the toys in which I would have played with, the same as when Emily was playing with her mother, I had fond memories of me laying with my mother. Although, this was nice to see that another child was receiving the same level of interaction and toys in which I did as a child, I think it could of allowed me to potentially judge a family if they was not receiving the same type of childhood in which I did. I am a white male, who lives in a comfortable family home. If I was to observe a child who was not from the same race, religion or class background this could allow me to believe that things were not correct just because they were not the same as what I received. However, I am quite aware that who is to say that my childhood was the correct one? I am aware that children all have different home lives, however majority of what happens at home is helping children develop.


I started this essay by introducing the topic in which I would be speaking about, I then moved onto the introduce the family in which I was working with. Discussing their social graces and how they influence a person. I then moved on to give a brief overview of my observations, when I conducted them and what activity had taken place. I moved on to look in depth at Emily’s child development and how certain behaviours link to a child development. I looked at some theorists who have spoken about the behaviours in which I witnessed again what that meant for the child’s development I looked at different sides of these and created arguments for both sides. I then thought about how different cultures, races, religions etc have an impact on how we view children’s development and how across the world it is different. I then thought about my own childhood and how I believed that to have influenced me while I was observing Emily.

This essay has made me think about my own understanding of Child development and think back to what I have already learnt. Although I have quite an extensive background of working with children and believed that I was very well aware of children’s development, through my research for this essay I have realised that there are many different scopes of child development and none of them are perfect nor are any wrong. Child development for me is a topic that you are always learning about and need to remain an open mind so that you’re not allowing yourself to become prejudice or discriminatory.  


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