Slide outline: Learning from the experiences of parents with children in care

Return to CFCA webinar - 23 August 2017

1. “Kids need their parents in their lives…one way or the other”

Learning from the experiences of parents with children in care – research and practice in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales

Teegan Bain, Jessica Cocks, Felicity Kime, Lynette Stoker, Lou Johnston, Nicola Ross 

2. Acknowledgement of country…

We acknowledge the Awabakal people who have suffered and continue to suffer from the policies and practices of the child protection system in Australia.

We also acknowledge all the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander nations who may be represented during this session and pay our respects to all elders past and present as well as to any individual Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who may be with us today. 

3. Presenters

  • Teegan Bain
  • Jessica Cocks
  • Felicity Kime
  • Lynette Stoker 

4. Session outline

  1. Background to research and practice in family inclusion in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales
  2. Thematic overview of the findings of the research project – “no voice, no opinion, nothing”.
  3. A parent and worker co led organisation - Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter (FISH)
  4. Bringing research and practice together – learning from the experiences of parents

5. 1. Background  - why research and practice initiatives in family inclusion and why here?

  • Numbers of children in care in NSW and the Hunter Valley (AIHW, 2017 and NSW FACS, 2015)
  • Growing interest in parent perspectives especially from Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter or FISH
  • Need for respectful, relational practice in child protection with children and their parents (Klease, 2008, Harries, 2008, Hinton, 2013, Reimer, 2015)
  • Cross-faculty and practitioner-academic collaboration 

6. The policy context – is family inclusion consistent with government policy?

National Framework for protecting Australia’s children

  • Early intervention with a focus on the early years, particularly the first 1000 days for a child
  • Helping young people in out-of-home care to thrive into adulthood
  • Organisations responding better to children and young people to keep them safe

Practice and policy frameworks in states /territories

  • Eg: NSW care and protection practice framework
  • WA - Signs of Safety 

7. 2. No voice, no opinion nothing…research into the experiences of parents with children in care

1.What are the experiences of these parents with statutory child protection processes and community services?

  • processes associated with removal
  • services considering parents’ perspectives and experiences
  • contact arrangements – proceedings and support
  • support to prepare for future children’s care

2.Is a policy of family inclusion reflected in parents’ accounts of their experiences of legal processes and community services? 

8. Parent consultants (

  • Consultants and peer researchers
  • Unusual in child welfare research
  • Challenging the silence in policy discourse

9. Methods

  • Genograms
  • Brief demographics
  • Semi structured interviews
  • Focus groups 

10. Demographics

  • We interviewed 18 parents which represented 15 families in total because we – it included three couples.  Eight parents went on to take part in focus groups.
  • Eight of the parents were caring for children at homewhile also having children in care. 
  • There were around 50 children of parents represented in the study altogether, including 34 children who had been removed.  27 children remained in care at the time of the research, 6 of those kids have been restored, and one had aged out of care.  

11. Primary themes

  • Power and inclusion
  • Grief and loss
  • Parent-child relationships and attachment
  • Identity
  • Professional relationships and relating 

12. Power and inclusion

  • When it’s all these people fighting against one person, it’s not a good feeling.
  • They will take three or four conversations that you’ve had with them that might have been months apart, put it in an affidavit and make it look as if it’s one conversation.
  • They were as lovely as anything until we got to the house and then just said, ‘oh by the way, here's the order, we're taking them’.
  • They said, ‘they haven’t done enough’. We said, ‘we don’t know what we need to do. You haven’t told us what we need to do’.
  • I feel sick because… I’ve done so much to get her back. I’ve done all their minimum recommendations to get her back and yet they’re still saying no…it’s the scariest thing to go through as a parent 

13. Power and inclusion: Catch-22s

  • Asking for support or help / Not asking for support or help
  • Asking for financial support / Not asking for financial support
  • Working / Not working
  • Emotional reaction / No emotional reaction

workers] actually judge a parent for being ‘unreasonable’, ‘aggressive’, ‘yelling’, ‘overemotional’. Yet, you show no emotion at all, and [they think] the parent is ‘clearly on a substance’, ‘unable to make eye contact’. 

14. Professional relationships and relating


  • There are two carers I’ve never met, three actually, and you’re going, ‘I wonder what these people are like
  • Even though I was making bad decisions, I had a lot of knowledge about him that they were not really taking into consideration
  • Have this partnership right from the very beginning. Have everything laid out on the table; ‘yes, we’ve taken your children, but we can put in contact plans while we’re sorting through this. We can work together. We can link you in with services’.
  • That [group program] was very beneficial in helping my mindset change from being angry to trying to work with them.
  • The solicitor was - he was good. When I'd get there, he'd - do you want a cup of tea? He was fantastic. 

15. Parent-child relationships and attachments


  • During removal] …I said ‘can I please give them a cuddle?’ and they allowed me, while they’re holding me, to just reach forward and put my arms around each one and kiss them goodbye….
  • I feel like we can’t bond properly… we don’t have enough contact with him.
  • …‘you’re not going to leave me are you mummy?’ … ‘You won’t leave me mum, where are you?’ So, it was pretty hard to have him removed when you’d always told him you are going to be there.
  • A bit more support to ‘rebuild’, that’s the word I am looking for, to rebuild my son… in himself, his education, his health, all that stuff.
  • If we just sat there [during contact] for an hour and a half talking, that’s not rebuilding our relationship, so I went out of my way to get different little things 

16. Grief and Loss


  • I smile on the outside, but inside I’m dying.
  • So, it’s like losing a child without a burial, without a grave. It’s the only way I could describe that… I still have her bedroom. Nothing has been touched…
  • I know they tell you not to cry, please don’t let your child see you distressed.  So that was really hard.  But that's what they say to you, see you next time, they don’t…say are you okay, they just go see you next time
  • Anybody who's having their child removed, I don't think they are rational. They're certainly not going to be happy
  • they were so patient with me….Then they were gentle enough to just keep slowly going and then I kept having light bulb moments 

17. Identity


  • [A worker] said, we don't consider you really parents. I don't consider you a parent. You're more like genetic material that your child has a right to know.
  • I don't get to hurt my children. I get to nurture them and help them grow. I have so much to offer them. Where before, I would have been crippling them.
  • She calls her carer ‘mum’… the first time I heard that I cried… I understand. The love that carer has for her, it is true… not just for the money… so I can see why my daughter calls her ‘mum’. It doesn't hurt so much anymore.
  • She doesn't need a visitor. She needs a mother. 

18. 3. Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter Inc- a children’s rights organisation

[photo array  meeting and posters]

  • Working with the Family Inclusion Network of Australia 

19. Promoting systems change through parent leadership

  • Launching the research report – reframing parents as experts and leaders
  • Partnering with family inclusion organisations nationally and internationally. 

20. Lived experiences of change – challenging stereotypes and introducing complexity –

[photos of website launch]

In order to keep kids safe and do the best we can for them we need all the voices at the table – including parents

Gillian Calvert AO

Inaugural Commissioner for children and young people NSW 

21.Learning from parents to improve children’s outcomes

Workers feedback

  • Thankyou for teaching us. You have changed the way I think and will change the way I practice. worker, 2014.
  • I have been working in this field for many years but this would be the best, most beneficial training that I have ever attended. As caseworkers we can be arrogant and feel we know better but that is not the truth. The truth is that parents are the experts, parents love their children and parents will fight forever. worker, 2016 

22. Peer support and advocacy


  • It's great to talk to someone who has been there, who really gets it
  • 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
  • Partnering with Life Without Barriers in the first family mentor role in an out of home care setting in Australia- that we know of. 

23. Supporting and connecting with families

  • A facebook page and website for parents and family to get information and support:
  • Images of posters promoting meetings 

24. 4. Bringing research and practice together

  • Children and families will benefit from improved support and advocacy with statutory services including OOHC agencies
  • Refocusing on family relationships – not just contact
  • Acknowledging an ongoing parenting role both to continue relationships and support restoration
  • Building relationships between carers and parents that are child focused
  • Connecting parents and family to each other – peer support
  • Building cultures of family engagement in order to drive practice change – it is not enough to adopt models or write new policies – leadership is needed. 

25. Relationships – for workers and carers

  • Provide practical support – transport, activities and in other ways as needed. Offer support – don’t wait to be asked.
  • Be supportive and non-judgmental of parents at all points of involvement
  • Use tones of voice to indicate support, non-judgement. Communicate well
  • Maintain contact with parents and listen to what parents have to say – don’t judge emotions
  • Work in partnership, treat parents with respect and as people
  • Be open to parents changing
  • Acknowledge parents love their children
  • Support help-seeking, help parents when they are struggling. Make warm referrals
  • Invite trust and be trustworthy. Parents wont trust you at first – why should they?
  • Learn about and understand parents’ circumstances – be curious
  • Be sensitive to emotional and practical impacts of removal and related processes on parents
  • Respect parents in conversations with children
  • Involve parents in decision making processes that will affect their child for the rest of their child’s life
  • Be real and genuine – use a human approach – think… if it was you how would you want to be treated? 

26. Family relationships – not just contact

  • Take an individualised child and family approach to family relationships.
  • Use a process and relationship based approach to family relationships – not a family contact event based approach.
  • Help parents make time with kids fun and happy.
  • Provide practical help and resources when parents need it
  • Reduce and remove supervisory arrangements whenever possible. If support is needed then provide it. Supervision on it’s own does little to support family relationships.
  • Reduce power imbalances – reconsider arrangements where family members and carers are asked to supervise other family members. This can have devastating consequences for family relationships 

27. Parent ideas for group programs and service development…

  • Specific for parents who have had children removed and do not have children in their care.
  • Knowledgeable and supportive facilitators in group programs.
  • Relevant to parent’s circumstances, e.g., relationship program.
  • Intergenerational focus, e.g., your parents’ parenting.
  • Include content on rights, policy and legal issues. Address the power dynamics in the system
  • Gender, e.g., groups and services for men/fathers, not just mums.
  • Transport (e.g., provided, proximity to venue).
  • Accommodate child care needs – lots of parents with kids in care have children at home too
  • Be creative to help parents meet program criteria
  • Accommodate parents commitments in planning, especially for self-development and parenting.
  • Make “warm” and supportive referrals to make sure the services are helpful and appropriate
  • Free whenever possible. Parents often don’t have much money 

28. Family Inclusive Practice workshop

  • FISH and Life Without Barriers are partnering to pilot a one day workshop in family inclusive practice
  • It is co facilitated by an experienced child protection social worker and a parent with lived experience.
  • When it is finalised in early 2018, FISH will offer this workshop to agencies and workers in the field. Email to find out more. 

29. References and Resources

  • A resource sheet will be on the AIFS website with links to relevant resources and websites as well as the references from today’s presentation.
  • Feel free to contact us if you have more questions.
  • The research team can be contacted via Jessica Cocks at
  • Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter can be contacted at

30. Questions?

  • Join the conversation and access key resources
  • Continue the conversation started here today and access related resources on the CFCA website.

Need some help?

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