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November 30, 2023

How to Write an Effective Pen Portrait

Write a pen portrait that captures essential information to improve staff understanding of individual needs.

A pen portrait provides a ‘snapshot’ of an individual, outlining important information such as their name, age, likes and dislikes, what they are good at, what they struggle with, preferred communication style and systems, and special educational needs.

It is a person-centred document, written in the first person, to ensure that the focus is on the individual, and it is a true reflection of their voice.

What is the purpose of a pen portrait?

Because they provide important details around an individual’s specific needs and context, pen portraits can be picked up and used by any member of staff who is providing support. In this way, pen portraits help ensure a coherent, joined-up approach to support, and are particularly useful for new staff, agency workers/ supply staff, or people who may be working across different settings and/ or looking after a number of individuals.

While they don’t replace individual support plans, pen portraits can be a useful resource to quickly convey essential information about an individual and their needs.

Who writes a pen portrait?

Pen portraits should be planned and written in conjunction with the individual in question, as, in most cases, they will be able to provide the answers to each section. It’s important that their opinions and ideas are captured within it and that they have a sense of ownership over it. This process ideally is led by someone who has a good relationship with the individual.

Once a draft outline has been agreed, it should also be shared with the individual’s family or carers, as well as the individual themselves, so that everyone involved in supporting them is on the same page and is clear about the contents of the pen portrait.

How to plan and write a pen portrait

1: Set up a meeting with the individual

A good starting point is to set up an informal chat with the person involved. Make sure they feel relaxed and at ease, so that they are comfortable to engage in the discussion.

Consider the physical environment, and communication supports, as well as the professional who is leading the process; an individual is far more likely to give honest, open answers if they have a strong relationship with the person asking the questions.

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