“No voice, no opinion, nothing”: Parents’ experiences when children are removed and placed in care
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Dr Nicola Ross, Jessica Cocks, Lou Johnston, Lynette Stoker
Parents whose children have been removed by child protection services often feel excluded and unsupported to improve their parenting, according to research conducted by the University of Newcastle and Life Without Barriers.
There is increasing evidence that children and young people experience more stability and better outcomes during and after out-of-home care (OOHC) when families are included in their lives.1 However, family-inclusive practices2 are limited in child protection processes and related policy and law reform initiatives.
To better understand these issues, the research team conducted interviews and focus groups with parents who had children removed and placed in OOHC between 2011 and 2016 in the Hunter Valley of New South Wales3 to explore their experiences of child protection, OOHC and support services.
Parents’ experiences of child protection and OOHC
Power and inclusion
Parents felt disempowered when navigating complex systems and struggled to know what to do and say to be included in their children’s lives or to have their children returned.
I did the best I could and it still wasn’t enough for them … I had a house now and I was on the waiting list for the psychologist. I engaged with the young parent social worker.
Professional relationships and relating
Parents said open and trusting professional relationships with people who controlled their children’s care were important but were often very hard to form.
I know what to do now [after two children removed]. It's taken me all this time but I know what you expect of me. I didn't get any help from you. I had to learn it all the hard way.
Many parents did not know their children’s carers. Many carers changed contact agreements and controlled when and how parents kept in touch with their children.
It's constant treading on eggshells with this carer … It is crippling these two little kids.
Parent–child relationships and attachment
Parents were concerned about how removal affected their children’s attachments and parent–child relationships.
[My child said] … “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.
Most parents thought their relationships with their children were undermined through brief, supervised contact visits and few activities to develop parent–child relationships. Reasons for supervision requirements were often unknown. Some had supervisors who made contact more bearable.
[The supervisor] said, “How about we … go over there where it’s more private. You can interact with your kids more.” A supervised visit is far from normal, but they did the best they could in a bad situation … [partner added:] It was like having your nice aunty there.
Grief and loss
Removal of their children was traumatic for parents, who experienced profound grief and loss. They felt most workers treated their emotional reactions insensitively and as risk factors in assessments, and believed more understanding would help.
We parents have obviously done something for the children to be removed … I’m looking for more understanding of a period and timeframe where we are going to be emotional, we are going to be angry … let’s … put it in context.
Parents were willing to play an ongoing and child-focused role in their children’s care. Many felt their identity as a parent was questioned, which meant extreme challenges to improve their parenting.
[A statutory child protection 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.”
Findings from the research suggest that parents should be included in their children’s lives more meaningfully, beyond appointment-like visits, and that parent–worker collaboration should start when child protection intervention initiates. Importantly, the research indicates a children’s rights approach needs to feature more in child protection and OOHC practice, including supporting parents to be better parents. For practice ideas and parents’ tips for carers and practitioners, see Section 10 of the report.
For more information, please contact Dr Nicola Ross:
Phone: (02) 4921 5871
Email: [email protected]
Further reading and related resources
- Hearing from children and young people in care: Experiences of family contact
This report from the CREATE Foundation describes children’s and young people’s experiences of family contact while in OOHC in Western Australia.
- Family Inclusion Strategies in the Hunter Inc.
This website provides information and resources to support parents involved in child protection processes and OOHC services.
- The experiences of parents and families of children and young people in care (PDF)
Commissioned by Anglicare WA, this report discusses research findings on the experience of parents whose children had been taken into the care of the child welfare department in Western Australia and elsewhere.
- Parents in the child protection system (PDF)
This report from Anglicare Tasmania discusses research findings on the experiences of parents and frontline workers who have been involved with Tasmania’s Child Protection Service.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). (2017). Child protection Australia 2015–16. Child Welfare series no. 66. Cat. no. CWS 60. Canberra: Author. Retrieved from: www.aihw.gov.au/reports/child-protection/child-protection-australia-2015-16
Cashmore, J., & Paxman, P. (2007). Longitudinal study of wards leaving care: Four to five years on. Report of Research Project commissioned by NSW Department of Community Services. Sydney, NSW: Social Policy Research Centre, University of New South Wales.
Family and Community Services, New South Wales (FACS NSW). (2015). Hunter New England, FACS statistics. Retrieved from: www.facs.nsw.gov.au/facs-statistics/facs-districts/hunter-new-england
Mendes, P., Johnson, G., & Moslehuddin, B. (2012). Young people transitioning from out of home care and relationships with families of origin: An examination of three recent Australian studies. Child Care in Practice, 18(4), 357−370.
Ross, N., Cocks, J., Johnston, L., & Stoker, L. (2017). ‘No voice, no opinion, nothing’: Parent experiences when children are removed and placed in care. Research report. Newcastle, NSW: University of Newcastle. Retrieved from: www.lwb.org.au/assets/Parent-perspectives-OOHC-Final-Report-Feb-2017.pdf
Sen, R., & Broadhurst, K. (2011). Contact and children in out of home placements. Child and Family Social Work, 16, 298−309.
- See, for example, Cashmore & Paxman (2007); Mendes, Johnson, & Moslehuddin (2012); Sen & Broadhurst (2011).
- Family-inclusive practice shifts from formulaic and procedurally driven approaches, to acknowledging lived experiences of children and families, and building children’s family and social connections. It is about child-in-family, rather than child-or-family.
- The Hunter Valley, NSW is part of the Family and Community Services (FACS) Hunter New England district, which has relatively high rates of children in OOHC and socio-economic disadvantage. New South Wales has the second highest rate of children in care in Australia at 10.4 per 1,000 (the Northern Territory has the highest rate) (AIHW, 2017) and the rates in the Hunter New England District for 2014–15 were slightly higher (1.8%) than the NSW rate (FACS NSW, 2015). These relatively high rates may reflect various regional disadvantages, such as poverty and comparatively low access to services and support.