Using the safety scale with family members [entry-title permalink="0"]

Scaling questions are a very useful solution focused tool and are also very helpful in the process of collaborative child protection assessment and planning with families. This blog focuses on the use of a particular type of scaling question, the safety scale. The safety scale can be used with all the significant people involved with a family to elicit their views about how things are going in the family at a particular point in time.

A general safety scale question is:

  • On a scale of 0 – 10, where 0 means the situation for these children is so bad that it is not safe for them to be in the care of the parents at this time and 10 means that there is sufficient safety for child protection professionals to close the case, where would you rate the situation right now?

If people haven’t been asked scaling questions before, the safety scale question can seem a little awkward or strange, so it helps to introduce the question by saying something like:

  • I’d like to ask you a question now that might seem a little strange ….     or
  • I’d like to ask you a question now that is something that we call a scaling question, is that okay? So, on a scale of 0 – 10 ….

What you define as the ‘10’ and the ‘0’ on the safety scale can make an enormous difference in terms of how people respond to the safety scale question. When using the safety scale with parents, I usually set the ‘10’ to be something that parents are likely to have an emotional connection with, such as:

  • On a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 means that you are able to be the mum (or dad) for your kids that you have always wanted to be, and 0 means that things are at their worst for your family right now, where would you rate the situation?

With extended family members, friends, etc I will usually ask the scaling question as something like:

  • On a scale of 0 – 10, where 10 means you are really confident that the children (your grandchildren, use children’s names, etc) will be safe in the care of _____ (use their names) and none of us need to do anything extra to support them, and 0 is that you are really worried about the children and think that the family really need some help to get the problems sorted. Where would you rate the situation right now?

When using the safety scale it is important that people can see their scaling position being visually recorded. Once they have scaled themselves on the safety scale, you can then use follow up questions to ask each person to identify:

–   The things that are going well in the family that have them scaling as high as they have (even if they have scaled at a 1).

–   Things they are worried about that have them scaling as low as they have (even if they have scaled at a 9).

–   What they would need to see happening in the family to move one point higher on the scale?

In this way, the safety scale opens up a conversation that covers all the elements of the Partnering for Safety framework. For example:

–   Things that have them scaling as high as they have can be recorded as either strengths or actions of protection.

–   Things that have them scaling as low as they did can be recorded as either harm statements, complicating factors or if they are phrased as worries about what might happen to the children in the future, then they can be recorded as danger statements.

–   What they would need to see to move higher on the scale can be recorded as either safety goals (if they are at the level of safety goals) or as next steps in working toward the safety goals.

Sometimes, parents, children and family members will scale at a 10 in situations where we might not view this as a realistic assessment. In my experience of working with families, this usually happens if people do not trust that they can be honest with us or are anxious about the consequences of scaling lower. Rather than trying to argue or dispute someone’s stated view (which will tend to shut down the conversation), you can use their scaling position to open up the conversation and explore their views further, by asking questions such as:

  • You obviously know your/the family a whole lot better than I do. What do you think are the most important things I need to know about what’s going well in the family that has you scaling as high as a 10?
  • I’d like to hear more from you about what you/the family have done that has helped you to feel so confident, so can I ask you about times in the past when you might have been less confident. What would be the lowest position you would have been on that same scale? When might that have been? And what have you/the family done that has moved you from a 6 (whatever number was their lowest position) to a 10?
  • That’s great to hear all of those things that are going well in the family at the moment. What do you think are the most important things that the family need to keep doing, to make sure that they stay at a 10?

There are also times when family members, foster carers etc might score at a 0 and you might think that this is not a realistic assessment. Once again, rather than arguing with someone about their scaling position, you can still use follow up questions to explore their views further. A question I frequently use in this situation is:

  • You are obviously feeling pretty worried about the children and in a moment, I’m going to ask you what you are most worried about, but before we move away from the scaling question, can I ask you if there have been times when you have been higher than a 0. Where were you at your highest on that scale? What was happening then that had you that high on the scale?

You can also use the scaling questions to help parents, extended family and safety network members to reflect on other people’s views about what is happening in the family, including the views of the child protection agency. Once you have fully explored someone’s scaling position and views, you can then ask where they think someone else (child, grandparent, foster parent, child protection worker) would scale things on the same scale. On the person has reflected on someone else’s view, you can then ask:

–   What they think that person thinks is going well that would have them scaling that high.

–   What they think that person would be worried about that would have them scaling that low.

–   What they think that person would need to see happening in the family to scale one point higher on the scale.

An important thing to remember about using the scaling question is that it doesn’t really matter where someone places herself or himself on the scale. Wherever they are on the scale, you can use their position and questions such as those listed above to explore their views further, to help them understand other people’s views and to help them to visualise the necessary changes and move forward toward the safety goals.

In September, I will be visiting Copenhagen for three weeks and I am so looking forward to it. Hope to see you then…. 🙂

Sonja Parker