This report is based on interviews with 156 parents who had been investigated by a statutory child protection agency following notifications that concerned 219 children. The aim was to understand how parents perceived the investigation, how they felt about what had happened, and how they had responded to it. This study took place as one component of an Australian Research Council funded Linkage Project titled Community Capacity Building in Child Protection through Responsive Regulation. The report provides an initial overview of parents’ perceptions across a range of areas including perceptions of what child protection workers did and how they went about it, what parents thought about the report that instigated the investigation, the response of parents’ social networks, feelings about being a parent, and expectations of the future.
Some highlights from the report:
- Although participants came from a range of social-economic backgrounds, the interviews suggest that relative poverty is an important factor for a significant proportion of families. Thirty-three percent of participants had incomes below the relative poverty line and for single parents this percentage (46%)was even higher (Table 2).
- In only a small proportion of cases did parents recall being informed that the concerns about their child or children had been substantiated (13%). In comparison, 46 percent said that they were told the allegations were not substantiated (Table 17). But when asked if there had been times when the situation was not ideal for their children most parents in the study (70%) agreed that this was true to at least some degree (Table 18).
- Most parents reported that negative situations for their children were contributed to by other circumstances, such as financial difficulties, health problems, stress or other mental health issues, relationship problems or domestic violence, alcohol or drug problems, and housing difficulties. Almost 60% said that at least one of these factors contributed ‘very much’ and many more said that they had contributed to a lesser degree (Table 20).
- Almost 20 percent (or one in five) cases were instigated by concerns about the behaviour of the child or young person, typically teenagers, rather than an allegation of abuse (Table 4).
- Investigations invoked considerable fear in the majority of parents. Fifty percent of parents said that they were very fearful of what child protection might do, while only 22 percent weren’t fearful at all. Nearly as many parents said they felt intimidated by the process and that they felt powerless (Table 13).
- A majority of parents felt positive about the child protection workers, with most parents saying that the child protection worker was professional (74% in the top 2 response categories) and 68 percent saying that the worker had treated their children appropriately. A significant proportion of parents said that they personally liked their worker (56% in the top 2 response categories) (Table 10).
- Most, but clearly not all, parents felt that they had been treated fairly: child protection workers explained things clearly to them, that they had a chance to explain things from their perspective, that child protection wasn’t biased, and that the child protection worker was respectful towards them (Table 8).
- Even though most parents felt respected as a parent by child protection workers, a significant number felt that they would not be able to put the allegations behind them, even though child protection had made sure their children were safe. Forty-six percent felt quite strongly they would be judged forever because of the report (Table 9).
- The majority of parents were sceptical about the benefits of investigation. Fifty-four percent did not feel that it had helped their children at all and 51 percent didn’t think it had helped them (Table 24).
- The vast majority of parents said that ultimately they would do whatever the child protection agency asked them to do, with only four percent of parents saying that they would not comply at all (Table 24).