Contributed by Claire Louge, Executive Director, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona

When I was about ten years old, my neighbors hired me feed their cats while they were on vacation. One day, when I went to unlock the door to their house, the key wouldn’t turn. So I tried to force it. I turned the key so hard, it broke in the lock.

My father, who is French, had an expression he used in my childhood moments of impatience: “Forcer, c’est casser.” It translates to “To force is to break.”

Forcing may be something you’re compelled to do, but it rarely gets you the outcome you want. This notion that holds true for so much more than keys and doors.

Several months ago, Prevent Child Abuse Arizona convened some partners to do a ‘system walk through’ of the Department of Child Safety (DCS) to inform the work of our Best for Babies initiative. Using a hypothetical example, we outlined what happens to a family from when they get reported to the hotline, all the way through the decision to reunify a child or sever parental rights.

The experience taught me a lot about the baffling complexity of the system, and reaffirmed how critical it is to prevent child maltreatment and keep families safely together so we can avoid the need for DCS.

It was also a humbling experience. At one point in the conversation, it came up that there are standards of practice for certain junctures in a DCS case, but these practices aren’t always followed, due to a number of reasons, including time and capacity. When they aren’t followed, it affects the outcomes of cases, which, to put it in human terms, are the real lives of children and families in our state.

I was indignant.

My first thought was: How can we make them follow the standards? How can we make them follow the rules? In other words, how could we force people to change?

I started to express my outrage aloud. Our meeting facilitator caught me mid-tirade. “You know,” she said gently, “We can try to make people do things through stricter rules or oversight, but that’s not going to make them want to change, or change the way they think. The way to get them to change is to build a relationship with them and get where we want to go together.”

I was grateful for the re-frame. Because what she was saying was something I know to be true: to force is to break.

It’s okay to feel outrage. It’s born of a place of valuing justice. It’s okay to want to make people change, especially when you see them causing harm.

But much like trying to force parents to change isn’t the best way to guide them to nurture their kids, forcing the people working in a system to change may not be the most sustainable way to make the change we want actually happen.

It’s all a parallel process. We know this.

To get anything done, it takes the slow, trust-building work of forming relationships. And you can’t force trust. To force is to break. It is through relationships that people can decide to change, and become intrinsically motivated to do so. It’s how we can learn about the person and meet them where they are, and work with what they have. It is through that understanding that we can be creative, resourceful, and human.

We all want safe children in resilient families. We may have differing views of what that looks like exactly, or how to get there, but as long as we share that ultimate vision, we can work on it together.

And try as we might, we can’t force change. Forcer, c’est casser.

Editor’s Note: look for the Strong Families, Happy Kids column in every issue of Prescott Woman Magazine. It’s designed to support parents with actionable tips and strategies they can use to create optimal environments for their children to thrive. To learn more about Prevent Child Abuse Arizona’s mission and resources visit