2002 Jordan Institute
8, No. 1
How to be Family-Centered While Investigating "Tough" Cases
Cooperation, which increases the chances that the issues that brought the family to the agencys attention will be resolved successfully, is possible even when coercion is required (Turnell & Edwards, 1999). The following family-centered suggestions may help you inspire family cooperation, even during investigations of reports of serious child abuse and neglect.
Take time to engage
families. Your relationship with the family is at the heart of your
investigation and everything that follows. Invest the time needed to
build a rapport with the family and you will probably obtain more and
better information, and you and others from your agency will have a
solid foundation for working with the family. Here your ability to listen
empathically is keywhen you listen respectfully, with an open
mind, and withholding judgment, families feel heard and understood,
defensiveness becomes unnecessary, and solutions can be sought (BIABH,
Look for family
strengths. Point out positives to the family when you learn about
them. Use strengths-based language in your documentation.
Help families with
transitions. Be clear, informative, and supportive as you explain
things to the family, and whenever it is time to move to the next step
in the process.
Give families empowering
choices. Research tells us that when clients feel they have been
given a say and presented with options, they respond favorably (Turnell
& Edwards, 1999).
Pay attention to
the words you use. Present information in as non-threatening a way
as possible. Practice using nonadversarial, nonauthoritarian language
before you interact with families. For example, you may wish to come
up with alternatives to phrases such as, Im not at liberty
with constructive alternatives. If alcohol is contributing to a
safety risk, it is not enough to tell a parent to stop drinking. Change
and safety in child protection is about the presence of something new,
not just the absence of risk (Turnell & Edwards, 1999).
Exercise your authority
only when necessary. Invoking your authority is easier and requires
less skill than being family-centered. Avoid, to the extent possible,
actions that minimize/undermine parents power. Instead, look for
opportunities to put the family in a position of authorityfor
example, by asking for permission, when appropriate. People are more
disclosing, open, and cooperative if they dont feel threatened