‘The MotC should be seen as a fundamental assessment within child protection. It is one of the very few assessments that is able to consider how both the parent think and feels about their child and how the child makes them feel. It is within this area of knowledge that risks posed of serious maltreatment can be safely assessed and managed…
The MotC should be an assessment that every social worker working with children should be able to readily utilise, it can make the difference in getting it right from wrong.’
Barry Tilzey, Consultant Practice Development Lead – London Borough of Wandsworth
Research into parent child attachment, as well as child maltreatment, have both emphasised that the way in which parents think about their child, is critical to determining what they will do when parenting under pressure. For example, Reder and Duncan comment in their groundbreaking study of child death enquiries:
‘Some children … had been at greater risk of harm than others because they carried a particular psychological significance to their caretaker(s). It was as though the children had acquired an undeclared script or blueprint for their life that submerged their personal identity or personal characteristics, and this meaning came to dominate the parent-child relationship… The children became “actors in someone else’s play.’
From “Lost Innocents: A follow up study of Fatal Child Abuse”, Reder and Duncan, 1999
The Parent Development Interview (known as the PDI, Slade et al. 2005) has been developed to examine and assess how parents think about their child, their relationship with their child, and their role as a parent. It has been used extensively in research and clinical practice for over 20 years. It is a rich source of information which can offer valuable assistance to assessments of parenting and risk, as well as inform and direct therapeutic intervention.
Close study of the way parents speak about their child gives information about how what a child means to a parent (the ‘undeclared script or blueprint’ that a particular child may have in their parent’s mind). Difficulties in parenting often occur when a child takes on a meaning to the parent (perhaps one more related to the parents’ own experiences) which varies from the child’s individual characteristics and development. This meaning can come to dominate and distort the parent-child relationship. The PDI allows this ‘script’ for the parent-child relationship to be seen and understood, so that risk can be more accurately assessed, and appropriate intervention offered when appropriate.
Dr Grey, as part of his doctoral research at Roehampton University (Grey 2014, Grey and Farnfield 20171, 2017b), with the help of Juliet Kesteven and former colleagues at Family Care, developed and validated an assessment tool to assess the nature of the parent-child relationship and the level of risk and resilience within it. The Meaning of the Child Interview (MotC) is a method of understanding the way parents think about their child(ren) through careful analysis of a semi-structured interview with the parent, such as the PDI. Interviews are carefully analysed according to a system that examines the ways in which parents talk about their child, their relationship with their child, and their parenting.
Interviews are classified for the level of risk, and also the nature, of the parent-child relationship, the degree to which it is Sensitive (mutually pleasurable to parent and child, and supportive of the child’s development), Unresponsive (psychologically distant from the child, leading to neglect in extreme cases), and Controlling (where the parent is psychologically intrusive towards the child, leading to, in more serious cases, hostile and/or enmeshed relationships). The MotC is based upon Attachment theory, and the classifications are linked to their effects upon the child’s developing attachment pattern, and the potential risks or strengths in the child’s development arising out of this (Grey and Farnfield, 2017a).
The Meaning of the Child Interview has now been used extensively in the Family Courts since 2009, and Dr Grey and Ms Kesteven have trained Social Workers, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, Therapists and other social care professionals in this procedure. It is also offered as part of the University of Roehampton’s MSc in Attachment Studies, the only postgraduate level course on Attachment in the UK, and is cited in the recent Routledge Guide to Attachment (Farnfield & Holmes 2014). It has been validated with both normative families and those involved in the Family Court system. Further information about the Meaning of the Child procedure, and what is involved in training in its use, is contained in the information leaflet, which can be downloaded here. There is also a separate website giving fuller information on the Meaning of the Child Interview, which can be accessed here.
“The Motc Interview has given me a structured and focused assessment which has enable me to explore the relationship between the parent and child. It has given me more confidence as a professional and I feel more confident in my assessments. I cannot believe what wealth of information I have gathered using the Motc interview. I would genuinely and whole heartily recommend this training for everyone who works with families.”
Social Worker, Northern Ireland
A parents’ reflective capacity refers to a parents’ understanding of their own and other’s actions in close relationships, in particular, their ability to make sense of their child’s behaviour in terms of his or her thoughts, feelings and intentions (Slade 2005, Slade et al. 2005). Assessing parental reflective functioning gives an indication as to the flexibility and sensitivity with which a parent will be able to interpret their child’s actions and respond to them. Sensitive parents are able to hold their child in mind as an independent person, whilst also being aware of and managing their own feelings, which will be affected by their child. This allows them to regulate their child’s feelings and their own, repairing conflict, and ensuring that the child is comforted and protected, even when circumstances are difficult and stressful.
High levels of reflective functioning have been found to correlate with parents having securely attached children and conversely, low, or absent reflective functioning are predictive of difficulties in parenting, and problematic child attachment and behaviour. Therefore, in conjunction with other measures, it is a useful indicator of both risk and resilience. The interview is classified for reflective functioning by coders with specialist training in this measure. Juliet Kesteven and Ben Grey are both trained and reliable coders of the RF scale in the Parent Development Interview.
The Parent Development Interview, including both the Meaning of the Child and the RF scale, is routinely used our assessments of attachment and parenting. Where appropriate and useful, it can be used in therapeutic work or intervention.
It can be requested on its own, or in conjunction with other procedures in the following kinds of situations:
• Where there is a need to assess the risk presented by particular parents to their children, and the strengths they bring to their family.
• Where parental difficulties seem entrenched or complex, or where professionals cannot understand why an adult is experiencing difficulties, or why parenting problems have occurred.
• Where a child’s behaviour is concerning, challenging or incomprehensible to professionals and to parents themselves.
• Where it is felt that a parents’ past experiences may be impacting upon their current parenting, relationships with their partner or spouse, or the outside world.
• Where there is a need to assess ability to change.
• Where there is a need to plan intervention with a parent or a family which is tailored to an the specific needs of a family, and what might be effective with particular parents.
• The assessment of foster carers or prospective adopters – especially in complex fostering or adoptive placements, or there is a need to match a child with complex needs, or in cases where there are difficulties between foster carers or adopters and the wider professional network.
• In situations of placement breakdown, or where the placement of a child with kinship, foster, or adoptive parents is at risk of breaking down.
• In assessments of parents with learning difficulties, to help understand where difficulties may be more emotional and social in nature, and where cognitive difficulties may impact upon parenting and functioning in relationships.
• In any situation where it is desirable to understand more of how an adult thinks, feels, and manages their relationships, in particular their relationship with their child.