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Friday, June 1, 2012

Engaging parents in change

Research has suggested that the relationship between the social worker and the family is crucial for effective intervention in child protection. However, social workers often find themselves stuck in the dual role of both trying to assist a family and gathering forensic evidence. When parents perceive that the forensic role is the primary function, it will be hard for them to buy into the notion that the social worker is there to help. It's a bit like that old adage "Hi. I'm from the tax office and I'm here to help". Who of us feels like that is a likely outcome of a visit from the tax office. For many parents, they feel the same way with child protection workers.

With that in mind, an new article from the United Kingdom was most welcome. Platt, from the University of Bristol, addresses the conflict for parents. One area that he addresses that I think is most useful, is address the utility of the classic stages of change model that DiClemente and Prochaska wrote about. Platt suggests that it may not be appropriate for use as a model for this population. Of course, the model was developed for use with addiction.

It might be better to think about readiness for change.

We must also be wary of using engagement as the criteria for success in child protection. Is that doing what is needed to get the worker to go away or is it about meaningful change. Thus, what is happening matters more than the appearance of something happening.

Multidimensional or integrated models of engage- ment appear to offer the best way forward. Engage- ment with services is understood as a function of multiple influences, including caseworker and pro- gramme effects, as well as the circumstances of the client or patient and their interaction with those services (pp. 139-140).
Platt also reminds us that the focus of change needs to about the child - how is the intervention making the family system better for the child? Change that does not improve that may be good for the parent but child protection is about the child. Does the parent see the cause of the issues for the child as serious and thus believes that change is needed? Can the parent see that as important for the child?

Platt talks about several important factors to consider:

* internal and individual determinants;
* external determinants
* engagement as seen in behavior, attitude and interactional levels; and
* outcomes for both the parent and the child.

Platt also notes some research that helps us to understand how to work with mandatory clients. This improves engagement. He states:

Role clarification: Ensuring clarity about what the worker can or cannot do, what the client’s role is, and what each can expect from the other.
• Collaborative           problem         solving:           Providing       help    to address the problems that led to the current situa- tion; the worker needs to take a collaborative approach.
• Pro-social modelling and reinforcement: Identifying and trying to build on pro-social strengths, such as good relationships within the extended family. The worker should model ‘good behaviour’ by keeping appointments and doing what he/she said he/she would do.
• Challenge and confrontation: Extreme challenging is generally unhelpful although some level of chal- lenge is appropriate. Better outcomes occurred where clients believed that workers were clear about their own authority and how they might use it. (summarized from Trotter 2008). (p.146)

The point here is that effective case work can be done with mandatory clients when efforts are made to properly engage them.


Platt, D. (2012). Understanding parental engagement with child welfare services: An integrated model. Child and Family Social Work, 17, pp. 138-148. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2206.2012.00828.x

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