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February 2021Vol. 22, No. 2Motivational Interviewing Can Be Used in Child Protection

Parents who become involved with the child welfare system usually experience a significant amount of stress, fear, and hopelessness that can make them less willing to engage with a system they see as threatening. For this reason, caseworkers must be diligent about meaningful engagement with these families. Meaningful family engagement, where parents and children have a say in their case and outcomes, has been shown to promote family well-being and reduce repeat occurrences of maltreatment and the need for out-of-home care. 

A recent article from Casey Family Programs—How Can Motivational Interviewing Be Used in Child Protection?—highlights the benefits of motivational interviewing as an evidence-based tool for engaging families. Motivational interviewing is intended to help parents assess their willingness to make the changes needed to keep their families safely together.

The following are the elements needed for successful motivational interviewing:

  • An authentic partnership between the practitioner and the client
  • A nonjudgmental and respectful approach to signal the practitioner's acceptance of the client
  • Compassion for and prioritizing of the client and their well-being
  • Evocation of the client's own desire to work toward change

The process for facilitating meaningful engagement include the following:

  • Engaging in a working relationship through listening and understanding
  • Focusing on a shared purpose about what needs to change
  • Evoking parents' ideas and motivations to explore ambivalence and understand the "why" of behavior change
  • Planning for change that is led by parents in a way that highlights their strengths and expertise

The article also includes motivational interviewing training resources as well as an example from the District of Columbia Child and Family Services Agency, which added motivational interviewing to its title IV-E prevention program 5-year plan.

Related Item

Child Welfare Information Gateway, a service of the Children's Bureau, recently published Motivational Interviewing: A Primer for Child Welfare Professionals.