A new report by Australian researchers has found that parents experiencing poverty and domestic violence are often targeted for intervention by child protection departments and the researchers say in such cases child protection departments remove children when counselling and resource allocation would suffice.
The researchers from Queensland University say inappropriate intervention in child protection cases has left many parents, especially mothers, feeling bewildered, confused and distrustful of the system.
The new research, conducted by Associate Professor Heather Douglas and Dr. Tamara Walsh from UQ's TC Beirne School of Law, suggests that child protection workers often do not have the skills or resources to support families and as a result, some children may be unnecessarily removed from their parents.
Dr. Walsh says child protection workers and parents' advocates must work together to displace the mistrust and uncertainty that is preventing more collaborative and open practices, as it is the child's interests that will ultimately suffer if there continues to be a lack of communication.
Dr. Walsh says while children should be protected, it may no longer be perceived necessary to remove children if families were appropriately resourced and their issues properly understood.
According to Dr. Wash research shows that factors such as low income, homelessness, and domestic violence are associated with poor outcomes for children and if the work of child protection authorities is to have any protective effect, child safety officers must work collaboratively with parents and children.
The report highlights an apparent shift within Australia's child protection departments from a family-centred to a child-centred focus and Dr. Douglas says for parents to participate in the child protection process it was clear they must be properly informed about the nature of the process in relation to both their responsibilities and entitlements.
Their research has revealed that in some situations, information is not given to parents, or that it is not given in a way that the relevant parent understands and once children are removed from their care, some parents have no idea what is happening with their children or what they need to do in order to see them again.
Dr. Douglas says formal information-giving protocols are required to reduce the level of mistrust and uncertainty experienced by parents - Dr. Walsh says 'much more asking, rather than telling, needs to occur'.
The report - "Mothers and the child protection system," - was launched on July 9th at the University of Queensland, and was based on group discussions with lawyers and community workers who assist parents in their interactions with the child protection system.