An Annotated Article: Dumbrill, G. C., Child Abuse and Neglect, 30 (2006) 27-37, Parental experience of child protection intervention: a qualitative study.
This article describes how the inherent imbalance of power between parents and child welfare caseworkers cannot be rectified. In this article, Dumbrill presents a conclusion from his study showing the equal distribution of power between parents and child welfare caseworkers may not be possible. Focusing on a group of 18 parents from both Ontario and British Columbia, the client respondents were from lower socio-economic families experiencing the full spectrum of mandated and voluntary child intervention types. Following a grounded data gathering process, Dumbrill mapped a decision making process where parents’ responses to child intervention caseworkers shows that based on fear, parents cannot fully embrace collaboration with caseworkers.
Parents understanding of caseworker’s use of power is a key concept to begin an intervention with a family. Checking parents’ assumptions of the power imbalance between parents and child intervention staff must be a starting point for caseworkers. Parents are filled with fear in their contacts with child intervention staff because judgements about family life are made without the parents’ voice being heard in the process. This is seen as power over the family, causing a fight response by parents. This key judgement issue without listening to parents’ voices establishes the belief in parents child intervention staff impose their opinions on families, creating a clear power imbalance.
Parents who perceive caseworkers to be exercising power with them described supportive activities that assisted them becoming collaborative with caseworkers reach their mutual goals. Activities such as advocacy with other organizations or structures to access resources and practical assistance of a temporary relief to stabilize the family clearly showed as sharing power with parents creating solutions to common goals. However, parents’ were clear despite their perceptions of their caseworkers were supportive they never really let go of the fear if their voice or actions turned, a supportive caseworker can easily turn against their plans to have their intervention end successfully. Parents’ perceptions to worker use of their power is viewed as a core factor in influencing parents either responding to power with conflict or to power with collaboration.
This article’s limitations are first, the sample was very small and may not successfully be transferred to larger populations without further study. Second, recent practice frameworks have not been reviewed in this same light which may shed more information regarding efforts to increase consumer acceptance of intervention planning, such as Signs of Safety and Child Intervention Practice Framework. As a social justice response, I believe the Distributive Justice model of Iris Marion Young (Young, 2005) validates Drumbill’s conclusion best. The five faces of oppression; exploitation, marginalization, powerlessness, cultural imperialism and violence can each be applied to the child intervention engagement scenario to validate the fear parents experience during periods of intervention.
My question is, to resolve this ethical dilemma, in your opinion, are the Signs of Safety or the Child Intervention practice framework changes in our intervention practice sufficient to bring this power imbalance to a more equitable level, and if not, what legislation or policy changes would you suggest?
Reference: Young, Iris Marion (2005), “Five faces of oppression”, in Cudd, Ann E.; Andreasen, Robin O., Feminist theory: a philosophical anthology, Oxford, UK Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, pp. 91–104, ISBN 9781405116619