Federation Research Bulletin: January 2020

This month’s research bulletin includes new articles and reports about intimate partner violence and parenting, social workers’ competence around intimate partner violence, disclosures of child abuse, inter-generational involvement in child protective services, and an in-depth comparison of child welfare assessment tools.

  1. Keeping it together for the kids: New mothers’ descriptions of the impact of intimate partner violence on parenting (2020)
  2. Self-perceived competence and willingness to ask about intimate partner violence among Swedish social workers (2019)
  3. Children’s disclosure of physical abuse – the process of disclosing and the responses from social welfare workers (2019)
  4. Safety assessment in child welfare: A comparison of instruments (2020)
  5. Patterns of intergenerational child protective services involvement (2020)

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1. Keeping it together for the kids: New mothers’ descriptions of the impact of intimate partner violence on parenting (2020)

Intimate Partner Violence (IPV) is particularly harmful to children exposed during the perinatal period (even after the violence has ended). Despite this, little is understood about how abused pregnant women and new mothers actually make decisions about well-being, relationships, and safety for themselves and their children.

This paper describes various experiences of IPV and how such experiences shaped women’s early childhood parenting and adds several unique contributions to the literature including the trauma histories and characteristics of IPV experienced by vulnerable pregnant women and new parents. It includes interviews detailing the perspectives, priorities, and parenting practices of participants and the various factors that influenced women’s parenting, help-seeking, and safety strategies.

Unmet needs frequently cited by participants were the economic concerns associated with IPV (e.g., child care, transportation, housing). Many participants stockpiled money in order to increase the likelihood of successfully ending their violent relationship. As a result, the authors suggest that economic empowerment programs, such as microcredit and micro-finance programs may improve women’s financial stability, improve well-being, and reduce instances of IPV.

Other recommendations include community-wide interventions that strengthen neighbourhood cohesiveness and create a culture of violence intolerability—outreach programs, education, and partnerships between survivors and their communities can raise awareness about the intersection of gender, poverty, and engender more community-based social supports.

2. Self-perceived competence and willingness to ask about intimate partner violence among Swedish social workers (2019)

Victims of intimate partner violence (IPV) require various forms of support and the various organizations and social workers they encounter all bring different resources and expertise to the client’s situation. This article explores the associations between training, IPV caseload/frequency, self-rated competence and willingness of social workers to ask about IPV.

While issues such as substance abuse, poverty, and child welfare have strong traditions within social work research and education, other areas such as IPV are often absent from post-secondary curricula. According to the authors, those with less experience and/or training with IPV that lack confidence when it comes to handling cases of IPV and is also less willing or able to explore IPV-related issues in their everyday work. In addition, lack of IPV training was also linked to victim-blaming attitudes, which have a negative effect on the support and services rendered.

This study highlights the necessity of improving IPV competency across various social work disciplines. Child protection staff need to be comfortable asking hard or uncomfortable questions in order to protect vulnerable clients. And caseworkers making social assistance assessments need to be able to recognize IPV in order to provide their services in ways that target the specific vulnerability of low-income women exposed to violence.

And while organizations have an obligation to ensure their staff have the competence needed to perform the tasks they are given, the researchers also suggest that some responsibility falls on the institutions educating new social workers.

3. Children’s disclosure of physical abuse – the process of disclosing and the responses from social welfare workers (2019)

Unfortunately, only a fraction of child physical abuse cases come to the attention of child welfare workers. Only 1/3 of all physically abused children disclose their abuse to an adult and only 7% of these children disclose their abuse to a professional. To understand these figures, this study examines how children experience disclosing physical abuse and the specific conditions in which children experiencing physical abuse perpetrated by a caretaker are more or less able to disclose.

When it comes to disclosures of abuse, the children participating in the study expressed both the importance of trustworthy adults and the time it takes to build relationships. Furthermore, children want their recipients to be able to act once the disclosure is made.

Because their parents are not always able to protect them, the authors suggest that school staff could be an important advocate for children. In fact, addressing issues of abuse in school could provide more opportunities for disclosing different kinds of abuse (especially since the school is one of the few places where children have relationships with adults outside the family).

The study found that children want to disclose to adults who are non-judgemental and who will consult with them on how to proceed—children want to be involved and want to trust the adult to act on their behalf. Children want to be recognized and allowed to participate in decisions concerning their own and their family’s future, suggesting that child welfare services need better routines and approaches for consulting meaningfully with vulnerable children.

The results also stress that school is an important place not only for teaching about the rights of the child but also for building relationships that facilitate disclosure. When a child has no secure base at home, schools could be their safe environment and teachers need to be aware of their important role in these children’s lives. However, more knowledge is needed regarding how this education could be framed.

4. Safety assessment in child welfare: A comparison of instruments (2020)

This article reviews and compares a range of child safety assessment instruments that are used by child welfare professionals to determine whether a child is in immediate danger, and subsequently, whether immediate action is required to stop or prevent serious harm to the child.

Over the years, multiple safety assessment instruments have been developed to guide child welfare workers in assessing immediate child safety. This study takes a unique approach in that it not only compares the content and the characteristics (and differences and similarities) of these different assessment instruments but also their underlying purpose (which isn’t always the same), and the way these instruments conceptualize “immediate safety” in different ways.

A total of 53 different safety threats were assessed across seven different assessment instruments. These were divided into the following categories: sexual abuse, access to the child, neglect, physical violence, domestic violence, emotional abuse, and other. Nine immediate child safety threats were assessed in at least four of the seven instruments. And while all of the instruments assessed immediate safety threats, only four of the tools assessed child vulnerability aspects and caretakers’ protective capacities as part of the safety decision.

Undeniably, it is often a caregiver inflicting harm upon a child, but immediately safeguarding a child for (threats of) harm caused by a child’s own harmful behaviour, may be necessary, and this aspect of “safety” was notably absent from a number of assessments.

5. Patterns of intergenerational child protective services involvement (2020)

This research study followed youth from the ages of 14–17 until their 25th birthdays to assess their involvement with child protection services (CPS) as alleged perpetrators or as parents of alleged victims. The goal of the study was not only to measure involvement but also track patterns of intergenerational CPS involvement.

The results suggest that interventions that target only parental behaviours (without consideration of the socioeconomic environment and social network) may be limited in protecting children from maltreatment. In addition, the findings indicate that limiting analyses only to “alleged parent perpetrators” excludes a non-negligible proportion of alleged maltreatment and, in particular, sexual abuse, which was the category in the study least likely to be parent-child perpetrated.

The authors suggest that there is the potential to reduce the intergenerational transmission of maltreatment by assisting youth to choose safe relationships and form healthy romantic attachments, in addition to focusing on their parenting skills and behaviour.

Given that young maternal age is an independent risk factor for child victimization (and that youth involved in CPS have particularly high rates of early childbearing), the authors suggest that ensuring adequate education and access to family planning support for both male and female youth encountering CPS is critical.