Ecomaps are a simple tool that allow us to see who a child or young person sees as being important to them and in their support network.

Unlike genograms, ecomaps are a very important tool in being able to tell us who a child or young person sees as important to them, who their close relationships are with and how they view the adults around them.  Ecomaps can be used in conjunction with other information that we know about a child or young person to build a picture of the context in which they live, and what their daily experiences are like.  In this post we look at how to build an ecomap with a young person, using some common symbols and terminology.

What is an ecomap?

Unlike genograms which are very structured and show the make-up of a young person’s family, ecomaps are a visual means of a young person showing who is in their network (be that family, friends, neighbours, school staff) and what sort of relationships they have with them.  Developing an ecomap with a child or young person can identify the context in which they live, who they feel aligned to, or if they are isolated in certain areas.

Example ecomap

Harry, represented by the green circle in the middle of the image, is a pupil at your school.  Through working with him you have developed the following ecomap.

Note: This image is computer generated to allow ease of reading across devices – ecomaps are often best done when hand drawn by the individual concerned.

Ecomap - full version

Initially, it may look confusing, however let’s break it down and look at what the individual parts of the ecomap are telling us.

Click on each thumbnail to find out more.

Ecomap - Immediate family thumbnail

Immediate family

Ecomap - Extended family thumbnail

Extended Family

Ecomap - Friends thumbnail


You can therefore see that there is a lot of information that can be stored for quick access using an ecomap.  There are few hard and fast rules that relate to an ecomap – these can be summarised as follows:

  • Always use a large sheet of paper and ensure that the child / young person is in the centre of the paper.  The exercise often works well when cut out shapes are used as these can be moved around as required before the final version is stuck down.
  • The strength of relationships can be illustrated however the young person feels they want to do it.  It is however important that there is a key so that the ecomap can be understood, and the key used in the example above is the generally accepted common standard.
  • The distance between the different people is important as this shows how close the child / young person feels to someone.
  • Date the ecomap – things change and it is useful to see when ecomaps were created as this evidences how things have changed.

Although this example is mostly black and white, colour is good.  This is the child / young person’s creation and therefore we should give them as much free reign as possible as this will increase their level of ownership of the document.


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