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Assess a parent’s readiness for change

A parent’s feelings about making changes to their life will differ over time. They may also be more open to some changes than others. But children need you to support parents through this challenging journey.

Change is a process not an event

Prochaska and Diclemente’s stages of change describes readiness to change as a dynamic process.

Parents might feel stuck with conflicting feelings: on one hand they want to change but on the other, they may be worried or scared. How they feel may change as you continue to work with them.

Keep the conversation about change alive through your case work by using motivational interviewing techniques. 

Help parents find their own motivation to make changes and stay on track for change. Regularly check in, monitor and respond to where the parent is at. 

Before you start building a case plan with parents, it is important to summarise and be clear with them about what needs to change and why.

  • Explain to them the way you have made sense of their alcohol and other drugs use and what it means for their child. (This is the outcome of your safety and risk assessments).
  • Ask if there is anything you have got wrong or misunderstood.
  • Ask for feedback on what they do or do not agree with and let them know it's okay if they do not agree with everything.
  • Acknowledge areas of difference and look for common ground for the future.
  • Remember that change takes time.

Help parents feel connected

Be curious about their thoughts, feelings and ambitions. Put hope and optimism into every conversation. Helping them staying connected to their child and the goal of keeping them safe can assist parents in their darkest times.

Do not assume that parents will agree with you about all of your worries or all of the things that you think need to change.

If you jump straight into case planning without a clear agreement of what behaviours or patterns need to be different, you can miss the opportunity to understand and see how ready and able a parent is to take action.

Further reading

‘Resistance to change is not something inherent in the person with the problem, but in the relationship where the intervention is not tailored to their readiness.’

Women’s Council (2009), Supporting women with complex needs—The relationship between substance use and domestic and family violence.

Tips for assessing a parent’s readiness for change

A parent’s ability to make the changes they need through a case plan relies on their commitment to keeping their child safe, their willingness to do what needs to be done and their ability to follow through.

The following tips can help you think about what you have heard parents say, what you have seen and what you understand from your assessment about how ready they are to make the changes their child needs now.

A commitment to change

Does the parent know things need to change?

  • Does the parent understand how their substance misuse affects the child?
  • Are they clear about what needs to change and how they can do it?
  • Does the family have a different perspective about what needs to change? If so, are you able to acknowledge these differences and overcome them together?

Are they ready to change?

  • What was the parent’s readiness for change at the time you first spoke about your worries? How has this changed over time or not?
  • Where is the parent in the change cycle now? What is happening that leads you to make this assessment?
  • What ‘change talk’ have you heard? (Change talk is when a parent expresses their desire, need, ability or reasons to change their current behaviour, as in: ‘I want to change my life. I want things to be better.’)

Are they not yet ready to change?

  • What tells you they are not ready? Where do they sit in the change cycle?
  • Are they using ‘sustain talk’? (Sustain talk is when a parent expresses their ambivalence to change. They may express defeat—‘I’ve tried that before’, ‘I can’t do that’, ‘It is not a problem that needs to be fixed.’)
  • Are they talking to you about their reasons for not changing? For example, ‘I have been drinking for so long I can’t stop now, I would have to move away and cut people out of my life to stop. I don’t want to have to deal with my past.’

A willingness to change

  • How willing is the parent to work with you and alcohol and other drugs services towards change?
  • How willing is the parent to open up and talk about what needs to change, how, and who can help them?
  • How willing is the parent to take steps that will support change, such as letting go of people who may enable their alcohol and other drugsuse, reconnecting with people who can help them, letting people help them, or seeking treatment
  • What ideas have they talked about for their healing and treatment?

An ability to change

  • Has the parent started working with services already?
  • If not, what is getting in the way for them and how can you support them?
  • If there is a barrier, what is it and what can you do to support them in overcoming it?
  • What services and supports are available for the parent to access?
  • What support network does the parent have to help them and their child?


Watch this short video to help understand where a parent may be in relation to their stage of change.

The Stages of Change Model

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