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Parents’ experiences of child protection

We know that timely permanency decisions for children and young people are very important in improving outcomes. While reunification is the preferred option, if this option is not possible continue to work with parents so they can be involved in the decision making, remain involved with their child as much as possible, and assist with finding an alternative permanency option.

Parents rarely choose to be involved with the child protection system. Even when they do, there are several dynamics that can affect the way they work with a CSO. Practitioners can use different techniques to minimise the impact for the family if they understand the dynamics, which include the following:

Power and inclusion

Parents often feel disempowered when navigating the complexities of the child protection system and are left wondering what they should do or say so they can be included in their child’s life or have their child returned to their care.

Parents may also feel that the power a CSO or senior team leader holds is being misused. This can happen when a parent feels their opinions don’t make an impact or are not heard.

Be mindful of the power imbalance, and be clear and curious. To increase the parents’ willingness to work positively with CSOs and other agencies, learn what is important to them for their child and include them in decision making. Explain your role and the different processes clearly. Remember that if a parent is feeling disempowered or anxious, you may need to explain things several times or in a different way, so they can hear the message and understand. 

Loss and disenfranchised grief

Consider the grief and loss associated with the removal of a child from their parents. It is a traumatic event for both (Ross et al., 2017).

Parents whose children are in care not only experience the stigma associated with this occurring but may also have their right to grieve the loss of their children compromised—leaving them experiencing disenfranchised grief. Disenfranchised grief is grief which is not culturally acknowledged or supported. These parents, while remaining the legal parents, are no longer the practical parents for their children (Schofield et al., 2010).

This loss and grief may affect a parent’s ability to process their child’s removal and the fact that their child may not be returned to their care. It may also affect their ability to actively engage in discussions in relation to their child’s future living arrangements. Therefore, discussions in relation to a child’s permanency will occur more than once throughout Child Safety’s involvement with the family and will continue to evolve over time.

Be respectful, show empathy and unconditional positive regard towards parents when acknowledging their role and feelings as parents. It is important to be aware of their pain and work in partnership with them by building a relationship based on honesty, openness and trust.

Parental identity

Many parents feel that their identity as a parent is under threat and questioned when their child is removed from their care. Parents with children in care view themselves as parents in much the same ways most parents would, though they have to squeeze their parenting into contact visits and into complex, power-laden interactions with the legal system, agencies, practitioners and carers (Ross et al., 2017).

Tip

Think about how parents can be included meaningfully in their children’s lives, particularly when considering relational, physical and legal permanency. The relationship between practitioner and parents begins from the very first visit with the family.

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