Section 1, Chapter 4 (A Questioning Approach)

(Effective 04/02/19)

Table of Contents

4.1 Types of Questions

4.2 EARS

4.3 Turning Questions into Conversations: EARS Questioning Strategy for Signs of Safety Mapping

A Questioning Approach

The best tool workers have at their disposal to build partnerships with families is the ability to ask questions.  When we approach situations and people with a questioning approach, we minimize the tendency to be the expert.  When we believe we know the truth about a situation, or what has caused abuse or neglect, or what needs to happen, we are more likely to make errors.  When we are genuinely curious, we are more apt to ask questions and dig out deeper thinking in the other person and actually help facilitate positive change. 

Questioning is a skill that allows us to dig deeper, especially when we move beyond ‘why’ and ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions.  Questions can be empowering when they ask the family for input and insight into the problem at hand. 


4.1 Types of Questions

Type of Question Purpose Example
Miracle questions Used to help children, young people and families create goals and a vision of what they will be doing differently and what would be different in their desired future. Let us imagine it is six months in the future and all the problems that brought us into your life are totally resolved.  What is the first thing you would notice?  What small step would need to happen to move towards this miracle?
Exception questions Uncovers instances when the problem could have occurred but did not, and helps obtain a balanced picture of the family, creating a vision that change is possible. Can you tell me about a time when this problem was not happening?  When was that?  How did you make that happen?  What kind of difference did that make for your child?
Scaling questions Helps give everyone a voice in assessing safety.  It is not the number that is important, but the conversation that follows the scaling process.  Scaling questions can also help elicit ‘next steps’ to change. On a scale of zero to 10, where zero being your child is not safe and will be immediately hurt, and 10 being your child is now completely safe, where would you say things are?  What are you already doing or what is already in place that has you this high on the scale?  What would need to happen to bring things up by one?
Position/relationship questions Helps to see a situation through the eyes of other people, and can be very enlightening when imaging how other people, such as their child, are seeing or experiencing things. I notice you scale yourself as a nine on a scale of 10, indicating you are solidly in recovery from using drugs.  If your baby could talk, where do you think she would rate you?  What do you think would get her to that number?  What would her worries be, if any?
Coping questions Acknowledges difficulty and helps people discover skills they possess and supports that helped them survive challenges and difficulties. I imaging that raising five children under the age of six on your own must keep you very busy.  How do you manage day after day?  What helps you to keep going?
Detail questions Useful to elicit details of goals and helps to operationalize the change process in small steps of actions and behaviors. What specifically are you going to do?  When are you going to do it?  How are you going to do it?  Is it ‘doable’?  Who will notice that you are doing it?  What difference do you think it will make?  On a scale from 0-10 where 10 is I’m as confident as I can be and 0 is I’m not confident at all…what number would you rate your confidence level today?



4.2 EARS

The EARS process is a useful questioning model to help turn questions into conversations.  Being able to effectively use EARS is a skill that requires practice.  Staff should use this questioning approach any time they are seeking information or to understand a situation more clearly.

E          Elicit first question: allows the person to choose a situation.

A         Amplify behavioral detail: uncovers the detail (who, what, when, where, and how).

R         Reflect meaning: helps the person process their meaning of the behavior.

S          Start over: ask another question, perhaps more narrow Elicit question within the conversation


4.3 Turning Questions into Conversations: EARS Questioning Strategy for Signs of Safety Mapping

  Worries   Strengths   Goals   Safety Actions


First Question

What worries you about (child)?

We have received a report that (child) was harmed – can you tell me what happened? What harm has happened to any child in the care of these adults?

What is the danger to this child if left in care of (mother/father)?

What makes this situation more complicated?

What worries (you/mom/dad) about being involved with child protection?


What’s working well here?

What does (mom/dad) do well to care for (child)? What does (child) like best about (mom/dad)?

When has (mom) fought off the depression and been able to focus on the child?

When has (dad) protected the children from the effects of his drinking?

When might the child have been hurt, but wasn’t? Have these parents been able to acknowledge harm to the child?

Who helps (mom/dad) with the kids?


What does safety look like for this child? What would (child) say makes him/her feel safe/happy/loved all the time?

What kind of home would (mom/dad) say she/he wants for her child?

What do you need to see to be satisfied it is safe for the child to go home /close the case?

Where would (youth) say she/he wants life to be like at 18?

What does (grandma/friend/neighbor) think needs to happen for this child to be safe?


Who would have to do what to ensure this child’s safety from (name danger)?

What would we have to see happening all the time that would tell everyone that the children are safe?

What would convince everyone that it is safe for (child) to go home?

What would need to be happening all the time to make it safe to close the case?

What would (youth) have to be able to do to convince everyone he/she is ready for adult independence at 18?


Behavioral detail: what would you see?

When has the harm happened?  How often?  How bad?  How did that incident affect the child?  How long has this abuse been happening?  Give me the first, worst, and most recent examples of the abuse?  How does (complicating factor) make building child safety more complicated?  What worries (child)?   When have these good things happened?  How often?  How did the mom fight off the depressions?  How does the neighbor help?  How else?  How is (name support) making things better for the child?  What did (mom/dad? do to make the visit really enjoyable for the kids?  Who else helps?  What else helps?  What’s better since the report?   Describe a time when this child was safe.  What is the child’s wish/dream?  How many people do you think should be involved in this safety plan?  What does everyone agree represents safety for this child?  Is this goal written in a way the child will understand it?  Would (name) agree this is the most important goal?   What else would you do to protect your child from (situation/danger)?  What else?  What else?  What else?  How many people need to be involved to ensure (safety action) happens all the time?  What will you do when (trigger) happens?  Who will you call upon when (danger) happens?  How do you know (safety action) is possible?  What is (mom/dad’s) (willingness/capacity) to do this?  Who will hold you to (safety action)?



How has the incident changed how you think of yourself as a parent?

What in the child’s condition/behavior indicates harm? What worries (you/mom/dad) most about your children? (Elicit) What else?  (amplify or start over)

Who else is worried about the children? (amplify question)

How come? (a why question in disguise)

What else worries the children? (start over question)

Are the children affected differently? Which danger concerns you the most? How worried are you (scale worries)?

Of all the complicating factors which do you think is most important to deal with?


What gets (mom/dad) engaged/excited? What’s better since the report?

Which aspects of parenting/family life are you (mom /dad) most proud of?

What would (friend, extended family, neighbor) say about these parents’ strengths?

What does (child) want mom/dad to do more of? Who does (child) want more involved?

How have the parents’ efforts to change benefitted the child?

Which of the strengths are most useful in terms of getting this problem dealt with?

What difference would it make to expand the family’s support system?


What would (child) have to see happening to believe he/she will be safe?

What would (grandma/ friend/ community) have to see to believe the child is safe?

What would increase the parent’s confidence in their ability to keep the child safe?

Who will support the parents to achieve these goals?

How would achieving this goal benefit this child? On a scale of 0 to 10 what is the parent’s willingness, confidence and capacity to achieve this goal?

How realistic is it for (teenager) to achieve this goal by 18?


How will mental health/addictions treatment services for you make your child safe?

How will (child) benefit from (name safety action)? What would (grandma/ friend/ community) say about this proposed action/plan?

What would increase your confidence in your ability to carry out (safety action)?

What would (grandma/ friend/ community) say would increase their confidence that (safety action) will happen all the time?  On a scale of 0 to 10 how would (safety action) change your rating of this child’s safety?

On a scale of 0 to 10 what is the parent’s willingness, confidence, and capacity to carry out the plan actions?

How will we know these good things are happening all of the time?

Start Over

Are there any other worries that we have missed?

Are there any other barriers to building safety?

  Are there any other good things happening in this family that we have missed?


Are there any other goals that we have missed in the plan?

What else would build safety/wellbeing?


What else needs to happen to ensure this child’s safety?

Are there any other important things that we have missed in the plan?

Adapted from Andrew Turnell’s E.A.R.S Tool for the Three Column Form