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Headshot of author Kendra KuehnCommunication is Core: Interviewing Approaches

by Kendra Kuehn, MSW, National Adult Protective Services Association

Solid communication skills are essential in all components of Adult Protective Services’ (APS) work, but they are especially vital in interviewing and working with clients. Many techniques, methodologies, and approaches exist. In this blog, we are looking at just a few interviewing considerations including motivational interviewing, trauma-informed approaches, and a forensic approach to interviewing people with disabilities. Most important is the need to incorporate cultural awareness throughout the process. See the links and additional resources for diving deeper.
Motivational interviewing is a set of principles and skills aimed at supporting change and engaging with a client as a partner. The Motivational Interviewing Network of Trainers (MINT) highlights that the approach pays “...particular attention to the language of change. It is designed to strengthen personal motivation for and commitment to a specific goal by eliciting and exploring the person’s own reasons for change within an atmosphere of acceptance and compassion.” Research supports the effectiveness of the method across a variety of target issues and client populations. San Francisco Adult Protective Services has put motivational interviewing into practice within their Hoarding Intervention and Tenancy Preservation Pilot Program. Motivational interviewing helped some clients to get in touch with their goals and desires and to get motivated to reach them. Even clients who had less insight and were not able to clearly articulate their goals and desires made some progress when workers used motivational interviewing. San Francisco APS saw that the motivational interviewing technique had a positive impact on client movement towards goals compared with clients with whom motivational interviewing was not used.
Trauma-informed approaches can be infused throughout APS practice, including in interviews and communications with clients. The Administration for Community Living’s National Voluntary Consensus Guidelines for State Adult Protective Services Systems strongly encourages a trauma-informed APS system, particularly in working with clients. Trauma occurs throughout the lifespan, but older adults are less likely to acknowledge the trauma or its impact. Incorporating trauma-informed approaches in interviewing is important in addressing accumulated and potentially hidden challenges. The New York Elder Abuse Center and the Weinberg Center for Elder Justice recommends ensuring the client feels safe in the environment and being client-centered, empowering, and holistic.  Their report notes “information should be elicited in a respectful and supportive way, always giving the client control over the process and framing painful events within the person’s life more broadly, a life that almost always includes positive experiences and personal strengths and achievements.” The APS TARC brief “Trauma-Informed Approach for Adult Protective Services” delves deeper into this topic.
Interviewing persons with disabilities can require different approaches depending on the level of the client’s abilities. In an APS TARC Interview with Experts, Dr. Scott Modell notes getting trained in a forensic interview protocol can be helpful. Most are directed towards children with disabilities, except Project FIND (Forensic Interviewing Individuals with Disabilities) developed by a coalition of stakeholders and experts in Ohio through Victims of Crime Act funding. Trainings on such protocols can help APS adapt to consider various disabilities and communication methods. Project FIND helps interviewers identify ways to work with people who do not speak or speak very little, use gestures, or use other devices and in a way that is reliable and legally defensible. The protocol can be used by a variety of disciplines, including APS, and trainings range from foundational to advanced certifications.
Interviewing with cultural awareness is a part of communicating with clients regardless of the technique being used. Being cognizant of a client’s cultural background can guide understanding of perceptions and historical trauma. For example, the National Indigenous Elder Justice Initiative (NIEJI) found that Native American older adults were more likely to respond to terms including “disrespected” or “bothered” instead of directly reporting abuse or neglect. Understanding cultural views on community and family may be important in discussing and addressing exploitation. Similarly, common terms and cultural perspectives are important in interviews with Latino older adults. The National Center on Elder Abuse notes that older adults may not want to report abuse because of the perceived shame to the family. Immigrants also may be reluctant to report out of fear of involving authorities or distrust. Language may also be a significant barrier. Native Americans and Latinos are just two of the many cultural groups throughout the nation served by and represented in APS. Be sure to know the community you serve and what may be important in working with those clients, including race, ethnicity, religion, LGBTQ identification, etc. But it is important to remember that populations are not a monolith and clients bring their own beliefs, perceptions, and worldviews.
Successful communication is core to APS work. These resources are just a snapshot of what is available. What are your best communication and interviewing tips and approaches? Let us know!

Additional Resources

Motivational Interviewing

Trauma-Informed Approach

Interviewing Persons with Disabilities

Cultural Awareness

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