1. Engaging Moms Program

Engaging Moms Program

Program Goals

The Engaging Moms Program (EMP) is a gender-specific, family-based intervention designed to help substance-abusing mothers participating in drug court maintain their parental rights. The program helps mothers demonstrate that they can be reunited with their children. It provides mothers the tools and services to comply with all court orders, attend court sessions, remain drug-free, and demonstrate the capacity to parent their children, thereby helping them to succeed in drug court.

Program Theory/Program Components

EMP was adapted for use in family drug court using the theory and method of multidimensional family therapy (Liddle, Dakof, and Diamond 1991). EMP’s program theory maintains that change in six core areas is essential for drug-using mothers to achieve sobriety and adequately care for her children. The six core areas of change include:

  • Mother’s motivation and commitment to succeed in drug court and to change her life
  • The emotional attachment between the mother and her children
  • Relationships between the mother and her family of origin
  • Parenting skills
  • Mother’s romantic relationships
  • Emotional regulation, problem solving, and communication skills

To achieve change in these core areas, EMP counselors hold integrated individual and family sessions with the mother and her family (e.g., individual sessions with the mother, individual sessions with family/partner, family and couple sessions). The EMP intervention is organized into three stages:

Stage 1: Alliance and Motivation

During the first stage, EMP counselors focus on two main goals: (1) building a strong therapeutic relationship with the mother and her family, and (2) enhancing the motivation of the mother to participate in drug court and to change. Counselors provide support to the mother and her family by highlighting strengths and competence, building confidence in the program, offering compassion, and maintaining a nurturing attitude throughout. Counselors enhance motivation by highlighting the pain, guilt, and shame that the mother and her family have experienced and the high stakes involved (such as losing a child to the child welfare system), while at the same time creating positive expectations and hope.

Stage 2: Behavioral Change

The second stage of EMP focuses on behavioral change of the mother and her family/spouse. Counselors begin by trying to enhance the emotional attachment between the mother and her children by working individually with the mother to help her explore her maternal role. The mother-and-children sessions are also designed to enhance the mother’s commitment to her children. In addition, counselors focus on enhancing the attachment between the mother and her family and/or spouse. This is accomplished by working with the family to help them refrain from negativity and instead offer instrumental and emotional support to the mother. Significant attention is devoted to repairing the mother’s relationship to her family, which may have been damaged by hurts, betrayals, and resentments in the past.

The EMP program also addresses romantic relationships, typically with men, which are often a source of pain and distress for many mothers involved in the child welfare system. Mothers in the program work with a counselor to conduct a relationship life review, which includes examining tensions between having a romantic relationship and being a mother. The counselor helps the mother examine the choices she had made and continues to make with regard to romantic relationships, and teaches her how to make better decisions for herself and her children. Counselors also help the mother deal with any slips, mistakes, setbacks, or relapses in a non-punitive and therapeutic manner.

Finally, EMP counselors facilitate the mother’s relationship with treatment/service providers and drug court personnel, including the judge, child welfare workers, and attorneys. Counselors conduct “shuttle diplomacy” between the mother and service providers that is designed to prevent and resolve any problems and allow the mother to make the most use of the services being provided to her. In addition, counselors facilitate the therapeutic jurisprudence in the courtroom by preparing mothers for court appearances and advocating for the mother in front of the judge and during weekly drug court case reviews.

Stage 3: Launch to an Independent Life

In the final stage, EMP counselors work with the mother to prepare her for an independent life. This includes developing a practical and workable routine for everyday life; addressing how the mother will balance self-care, children, and work; outlining a plan to address common emergencies with children and families; and addressing how the mother will deal with potential problems, mistakes, slips, and relapses.

Intervention ID

18 to 100


Study 1

The study by Dakof and colleagues (2010) looked at the comparative effects of two family drug court interventions and found statistically significant differences between the groups on a number of measures. Mothers who participated in the Engaging Moms Program (EMP) showed equal or better improvement than mothers who received Intensive Case Management Services (ICMS) on all outcomes.

Child Welfare Status

Mothers who participated in EMP were more likely than mothers in ICMS to have positive child welfare outcomes (defined as welfare dispositions that led to sole custody, joint custody, or permanent guardianship with family members, without termination of the mother’s parental rights). Eighteen months after enrollment in family drug court, 77 percent of EMP mothers had positive child welfare outcomes, compared to 55 percent of ICMS mothers.

Maternal Substance Use, Psychosocial, and Family Functioning

There were no statistically significant differences between the two intervention groups on these measurements, due to the small sample size. The effect sizes of several outcomes did favor mothers who participated in EMP, however. The positive effects are seen in the first 3 months of the follow-up period, and in each case, these initial treatment differences were maintained through 18 months.

The calculated effect sizes showed that EMP mothers were more likely to decrease their alcohol use, experience improvement in their mental health (as measured by the Brief Symptom Inventory), improve their overall family functioning, and decrease their risk for child abuse compared to ICMS mothers. There were no significant differences on measures of drug use, with mothers from both groups showing significant improvement over time. Mothers participating in EMP also showed greater improvements with medical problems between 3 months and 18 months.

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