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2002 Jordan Institute
for Families

Vol. 8, No. 1
December 2002

The Connection with Family-Centered Practice

Perhaps the best way to illuminate the connection between forensic interviewing and family-centered practice is to talk about North Carolina’s new child welfare system reform effort, the Multiple Response System (MRS). MRS is an approach to children’s services being piloted in 10 of the state’s 100 counties. MRS consists of seven strategies, one of which changes the way participating agencies respond to reports of child maltreatment.

Under MRS, rather than treating every report as if it were potentially a serious case of criminal child abuse/neglect, intake reports are carefully sorted into one of two approaches. The first, the investigative assessment approach, resembles the classic child protective services (CPS) response in which workers perform a rigorous investigation, using forensic interviewing techniques when appropriate. In the second, the family assessment approach, child safety is still the first concern, but the overall nature of the agency’s contact with the family is much more supportive. It is anticipated MRS will become the new statewide standard for child welfare practice in the near future.

When thinking about the MRS strategy for CPS it is important to keep in mind there is an expectation of family-centered practice in both the family assessment AND the investigative assessment approaches.

Some people initially have difficulty with this notion. They ask: How can we be family-centered when we use a technique such as the forensic interview, which is designed to collect evidence that will stand up in court if the investigation leads to criminal prosecution? Isn’t it too adversarial?

It is true that some parts of forensic interviewing and the overall investigative approach cannot be changed—for example, it is recommended that CPS interview children before speaking with parents. Yet even with these constraints, when we embrace family-centered principles, we can almost always manage to treat families in a way that makes it clear we value and respect them.

When we do, chances are greatly increased that we will win the trust of the child and parents, gather the information we need, reduce trauma for the entire family, and help them achieve the positive outcomes we seek.

References for this and other articles in this issue