Measuring Client Engagement on Non-Voluntary Child Protective Services

Diane K. Yatchmenoff
Child Welfare Partnership
Graduate School of Social Work
Portland State University
P.O. Box 751
Portland OR 97207
Purpose:  One of the challenges of child protective service work is engaging clients in a helping process when they may be fearful or angry at the state’s intrusion.  Current practice initiatives provide new strategies to effectively engage caregivers, but generally are based on untested assumptions about what this means or how to assess it.  Recent research focuses on client-worker relationships, participation, or “readiness to change” as aspects of engagement, but to date has shown mixed results with respect to outcomes.  The purpose of this study was to articulate and test a broader client-centered definition of client engagement in this non-voluntary context.
Methods:  Based on in-depth interviews with clients, literature review, and input from professionals and scholars, five dimensions of client engagement were identified: receptivity, expectancy, investment, working relationship, and a negative dimension, mistrust.  Pilot data on 37 items reflecting these dimensions were collected from 287 clients.  Results were examined for reliability and the fit of the data to the hypothesized measurement model.  Construct and criterion validity were examined, as were relationships between client and worker views of engagement and compliance.
Results:  Confirmatory factor analysis supported the hypothesized model.  In contrast to workers’ perceptions, most parents in the study acknowledged problems and the need for help.  Mistrust was a significant negative factor that influenced the link between receptivity and investment in the helping process.  Relationship was important, but not as much as anticipated.  Expectancy and investment were most closely linked with a criterion measure and compliance.  Workers tended to perceive families as engaged if they were compliant, while families often indicated otherwise.
Implications:  Training and supervision in aspects of engagement could help workers more effectively tap into receptivity, reduce mistrust, and build investment and expectancy.   The relative importance of engagement and compliance in predicting child and family outcomes warrants further study.