Some comments on our present knowledge of parental experiences of child protection

1. Suspicion seems endemic. In particular, suspicion of parents.  Invariably child protection means protection from parents. It:

…involves a very different conception of the relationship between an individual or group, and others than does care. Caring seems to involve taking the concerns and needs of the other as the basis for action. Protection presumes the bad intentions and harm that the other is likely to bring to bear against the self or group and to require a response to that potential harm (Tronto, 1993, pp. 105–106).

In this way, parents can be ‘othered’.  The mothers in Smeeton and Boxall’s study felt they had ‘lost ownership’ of their own stories (2011 p. 447). Threatened identity also appears in the Schofield et al study of parent experiences in England, Norway and Sweden (2011). One Australian parent in Hardy and Darlington’s study spoke of the effect of the child protection process on her identity: ‘they stripped me totally of my parenthood’ (2008, p. 256).  Erasure of identity as a parent was also found in the Canadian study of fathers (Dominelli, et al, 2011, p. 357).  Practices involving late or absent copies of reports or having to ask for these (Ghaffar et al, 2012, Birmingham Strategic Research Team, 2014), cancellation of meetings with little prior notice (Morris et al, 2018) and the lack of encouragement to have legal advice, or an advocate (Walsh and Douglas, 2015) also combine to ‘other’ parents.  It can be speculated that at base, this negation of self, dehumanising and ‘othering’ of parents is a powerful element in the experiences of child protection. In cases where there is an added race, nationality or culture dimension, the effect of such ‘othering’ can be more acute as in the case of the aboriginal father in Dominelli et al (2011, p. 362).

2. The research has generally involved many more mothers than fathers (Clapton, 2009, Brandon et al, 2017). What we do know of fathers’ experiences of child protection is firstly, that in general, men or overlooked, whether as a resource, a risk, or both (Brandon et al, 2017). Secondly, for those fathers that are non-abusive, their experiences echo those of mothers – with an added dimension of social work suspicion about their capability to parent a child (Clapton, 2009, Dominelli et al, 2011, Brandon et al, 2017). Thirdly, men’s presentation of self in tense situations can be deemed a cause for exclusion: “Then they cancelled the meeting, said I was aggressive…I said ‘I talk the way I talk mate. I can’t help it. I’m not aggressive, I’m just pissed off” (Brandon et al, 2017, p. 99).      

3. The need for parent advocates is raised by Birmingham Council’s Strategic Research Team (2014) and Walsh and Douglas. The latter underline the difficulties in communication with child protection workers, when they note that ‘Mothers did not know about or did not understand what was happening in relation to their children (including where their children were located at times), why certain things were taking place or what their rights were‘ (2015, p. 100).

So, mindful of what we emerges from the existing literature, this paper now presents the results of the PAR Survey.

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