Slide outline: 'A community that values its children will cherish their parents': Family inclusion in child protection systems

Return to CFCA webinar – 24 October 2018 

1. If a community values its children, it must cherish their parents: Family inclusive practice in child protection and care
Jessica Cocks

2. Acknowledgement of Country

I acknowledge the Awabakal people and pay my respects to their elders past present and future. I acknowledge the Awabakal people have suffered and continue to suffer from the policies and practices of the child protection system in Australia.I also pay my respects to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are with us today.

3. Topics

  1. The context for family inclusion.
  2. Key elements of family inclusive practice
  3. Three areas for innovation
  4. Integration into policy and practice

4. The context - why family Inclusion?

A pressing need for family engagement and involvement
Child welfare practice – a part of the problem?
Policies, models and programs that don’t help – a wicked problem
Challenging the competing rights discourse - a need to refocus on the lived experience of parents and their children 

5. Key elements of family inclusion….

  • Acknowledging power imbalances
  • Integrating the social causes of child abuse and child removal
  • Family voices in implementation and design
  • Using an ethical lens including children’s rights
  • Parents as leaders
  • Relational permanency

6. Key elements of family inclusion –Acknowledging power imbalances

Acknowledging and ameliorating power imbalances

7. Key elements of family inclusion – Integrating the social causes of child abuse and child removal

Integrating the social context and causes of harm to children

  • Poverty
  • Family and gendered violence
  • Addiction -  a public health problem
  • Homelessness
  • A lack of social support
  • Racism
  • Intergenerational trauma

8. Key elements of family inclusion – Family voices in implementation and design

“Poverty is the wall paper of practice in child welfare – unremarkable and unremarked upon.”

Professor Kate Morris and colleagues, Child Welfare Inequalities Project, UK, 2017 | @CWIP_Research

9. Key elements of family inclusion

Evidence-based programs and family inclusion.

Agency leaders usually think they and their staff are doing better than they actually are. Having access to parent and family experiences is an important reality check and a springboard for change

10. Key elements of family inclusion – Using an ethical lens including children’s rights

An ethical lens – doing what is right. 

If a community values it’ children it must cherish their parents. 
Bowlby, 1951

Poverty is not neglect, surveillance is not support
Child Welfare Organising Project, 2018

Every child has the right to their parents to be represented by the best lawyer in town,
Professor Martin Guggenheim, NYU

11. Key elements of family inclusion – Parents as leaders.

I attended groups for quite a few years before becoming a parent leader. When I found a worker who was helpful this allowed me to lead in my own life and to lead change in the system Parent leader California.

12. Key elements of family inclusion – Relational permanency

Family inclusion and family relationships are pathways to permanency

Permanency and security are a feeling and a lived experience. 

Permanency is about relationships and enduring connection – not court orders

13. Three areas for innovation.

  1. Peer work – parents helping parents
  2. Carer and parent relationships – contributing to relational permanency
  3. Parent leadership

These are all initiatives that we can do now. They are cheap or cost neutral. They are consistent with government policy and no legislative change is needed. 

14. Innovation one - Peer work. Parents helping parents.

Peer workers are parents who have had personal experiences in the child welfare system and offer advocacy and support to parents newly involved in the system (Lalayants, 2013).

I want to talk to a parent. No offence. I’m sure you’re really nice. But another parent will know what I’m going through

15. Peer work – parents helping parents.

  • Peer workers coach, translate, encourage, empathise and advocate – above all they offer hope. 
  • They influence and role model.
  • Peer workers don’t take case notes, they rarely give evidence. They don’t assess, monitor or supervise.

Family partner roles have no actual power. Only influence. They don’t take notes and we have an agreement with the court that they wont give evidence. Manager

My parent partner is my biggest fan, my cheer leader. She speaks up for me with the social worker, Parent

16. Peer work – parents helping parents cont...

Ultimately parents don’t trust the social worker – they do trust us. We help them to navigate the system. We encourage them and highlight areas they can make choices. Peer worker 

I can trust my parent partner – I cant totally trust the social worker. Its as simple as that. I know I won’t be judged by her. She helps me work out how to talk to the social worker. Parent.

17. Alt text:

This flowchart has three boxes side by side with arrows connecting them all to each other and a two directional arrow underneath. The grey box in the middle represents the peer worker. The two green boxes on the outside represent the parent and the agency. The flowchart conveys that the peer workers is connecting the parent and the agency and is communicating in both directions.

18. Peer work – parents helping parents.

Having the Bronx Defenders Office and the CFR (parent advocates working with social workers and lawyers) has improved outcomes for all parties. Parents have difficulty trusting child welfare authorities and strong support and advocacy (for parents) has helped build trust and engagement Eric Brettschneider, Admin of Children's Services, NYC 

Parent partners have brought a relational focus back to child welfare. I highly value them as team members. They have improved my relationships with clients. Social Worker

19. Peer work – parents helping parents.

Benefits to peer workers

When I worked with (peer worker) she gave me hope. She believed in me when I didn’t even believe in myself. This made a big difference to my self esteem. Peer worker

It never lets me forget where I came from. It keeps me humble and it keeps me sober. They (the families) give me more than I give them. To see their success, the daily impacts of my work, makes my life richer. I’m right where I’m supposed to be. Peer worker, quoted in Berrick et al, 2011

20. Innovation two. Parent - carer relationships

Relational permanency

It’s good for the children to see the relationship and I don’t want Lawrence to lose Sarah and her family from his life. But I have been lucky – not everyone is so lucky with the foster carer. Parent, Fairfax County, VA

Secrets are only kept when there is something shameful to hide, Open Adoption and Family Services, Oregon.

Alt text: The photo on this slide is of a foster carer, Sarah, a mother, Helen and Helen’s 2 year old son Lawrence. The two women are sitting in a relaxed and happy way with Lawrence between them. 

21. Innovation two. Parent - carer relationships cont...


Be non judgemental. We (carers) are here to get families back together. We are not long term babysitters. We do a lot more than care. Carer

Alt text: The photo on this slide is of a foster carer, Sarah, a mother, Helen and Helen’s 2 year old son Lawrence. The two women are sitting in a relaxed and happy way with Lawrence between them.

22. Foster care is the "bridge"....

This slide portrays a bridge with a child in care on one end and the child’s family on the other. The bridge symbolises foster care as a way of bringing the child and family back together.  Underneath these images is a one directional arrow from the child and the family with words indicating the carers role as the child crosses the bridge to the family – support, help, teach and learn, participate.

23. Carer – parent relationships

When children are in permanent care:

Maybe a mom can’t succeed at being a fulltime parent at this point in her life, but she can succeed in her role as a birth parent. And this means everything to her and her child. Open Adoption and Family Services

A lifelong (carer and parent) relationship is crucial to open adoption. Sometimes birth parents are struggling and may lose contact for a while, but the door stays open. Shari Levine

24. Innovation three. Parent leadership

As stakeholders and activists, trainers and as service providers

Legislators in Washington now have direct access to parents and they are using this access Alise Segel, Washington State Parent Ally Committee

From Pariahs to Partners… David Tobis, 2013

25. Parent leadership – parent led organisations

Child Welfare Organising Project, New York City

Rise Magazine, New York City

Washington State Parent Ally Committee

Organiisasjon for Barevernforeldre, Norway

Your Family Your Voice, UK

26. Parent leadership – training and consultancy 

Strategic sharing is telling pieces of your personal story in a meaningful and safe way, using parts of your story to educate and advocate. Sharing strategically helps you to prepare with your training partner and what you may need for support when sharing pieces of your story. Marcella Middleton, Family Trainer FACTT

Avoid the pop-up parent phenomenon. Kara Allen Eckard, Agency Trainer, FACTT

Alt text: Two photos on this slide. The top photo is of two women in a conference lobby smiling – they are a social work and a family trainer. The seond photo is of the author with three mothers who have formed a birth family consultancy in the US also in a conference lobby

27. Parent leadership – an Australian example

Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter (FISH)

  • Parent and worker co-led organisation
  • Training and workshops
  • Co-design projects including with Life Without Barriers and the University of Newcastle Law School
  • Voluntary peer support through a monthly support group for parents in the Hunter region
  • Research collaborations (Ross et al, 2017), publications and submissions
  • Leading change and improvement in the interests of children

28. Spectrum of the types of activities to being about greater family inclusion.

Agency initiated change

Emphasis on practice improvement in current system

Emphasis on systemic change and reform as well as practice

Parent/community-led change

Table description: The is a table portraying a  spectrum of the types of activities to bring about greater family inclusion. On one side of the spectrum, there is an image of buildings representing agency led change. A one-directional arrow towards the right leads to parent and community-led change represented by an image of a family. There is also an image of a fish on this end of the arrow to convey that FISH is a parent and community-led set of activities. 

29. Activities and their contexts to build family inclusion

Alt text: Table to describe the types of activities and their contexts to build family inclusion. Three intersecting bubbles in blue – society, aqua – individual and groupwork and green – agency and sector. Around each bubble are examples of the types of activities.
Society – parent led services, parent voice in policy and the establishment of parent and family peak bodies and organisations Individual and group – parent led groupwork, parents coaching and supporting family time, peer work, carer and parent initiatives.
Agency and sector – parent advisory groups, family trainers, family inclusive organisational policy, family inclusive service design

30. Integration into policy and practice in Australia

Table description: This is a table with two columns of recommendations. The first column has recommendations relevant to agencies. The second column has recommendations relevant to the broader community. 

31. Conclusion

A full bibliography is in the report available.

Thanks for your interest

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