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Parents experiencing trauma

When children and young people are initially entering care, emotions may be running high and it may be easy to describe the parent’s behaviour on the day as aggressive, hostile, threatening, unsettled, unsafe or showing signs of experiencing a mental illness.

When parents are grieving, have limited information on what is happening to their children and may be affected by some other issue (for example, alcohol, drugs or mental health issues), they may not be able to process at that exact moment what is happening to their family. It is unfair to use the parent’s presentation to inform any decision-making processes regarding care arrangements, such as withholding the details of their child’s care arrangement.

‘Traumatic events can leave us feeling unsafe. They can disrupt our beliefs and assumptions about the world. Your sense of your ability to control your life may be shattered. You may question how much influence you have over your life and your life choices … The effects of trauma also can cause intense emotion, including extreme emotional fluctuations, unhappiness, anxiety, loneliness, anger, and irritability.’

When parents are presenting like this, their ability and willingness to participate in conversations, decision-making processes and support of their children are diminished.


It is important to remember the power practitioners hold when working with vulnerable children and families, particularly when children have been assessed as children in need of protection and to ensure their safety a care arrangement is required.  Engaging in reflective practice either in supervision or with peers is a one way practitioners can ensure they are using their authority in the best interests of children.  (Refer to practice guide: Power, privilege and use of self in child protection).

Privilege is unpacked more in the Working with difference part and in the following short video.

What Is Privilege? 

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