Analyses of parents' problems in clinicians' assessments for the Children's Court of Victoria on child protection matters
AffiliationMelbourne School of Psychological Sciences
Document TypePhD thesis
CitationsSuomi, A. (2012). Analyses of parents' problems in clinicians' assessments for the Children's Court of Victoria on child protection matters. PhD thesis, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne.
Access StatusOpen Access
© 2012 Dr. Aino Suomi
This research focused on analyses of expert clinicians’ assessments for child protection matters referred to the Children’s Court Clinic by the Children’s Court of Victoria in 2006-2007. Major aims were to examine the occurrence and co-occurrence of three forms of common parent problems; to analyse their association with clinicians’ identification of child-related issues and assessment issues and recommendations for placement decisions; and to examine the relationship between clinicians’ recommendations and subsequent court decisions about protection orders and the placement of children. The data were clinicians’ reports to the court that were analysed using content analytic techniques. The analyses focused on 138 families involving 250 children referred to the clinic by the court for expert psychosocial assessment. Domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems contribute to parents’ ability to provide adequate care for children and are frequently present in families that come to attention of protection authorities. The research was framed by the significance of these parent problems in relation to two fundamental guiding principles that are prominent in child protection research and practice: ‘good enough parenting’ and ‘the best interests of the child’. In two studies, content analysis of clinicians’ reports focused on distinctive patterns in clinicians’ mentions of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental health problems in relation to fathers and mothers, and on how these problems were related to clinicians’ mentions and concerns about child-related issues, assessment issues and recommendations. Study 1 revealed 11 distinct patterns in the parent problems of the 250 children. These patterns in the parent problems were associated with child-related issues and clinicians’ placement recommendations. In families where parents were dealing with multiple and complex issues with substance abuse children were likely to be recommended to kinship care, whereas a combination of father’s domestic violence and sexual abuse was related to out-of home placements. Inconsistent with previous research, the results showed that family reunifications were related to families where both parents suffered from mental health problems. The least prevalent problems, mother’s domestic violence and father’s mental health, however, were associated with placements in parents’ care. Study 2 showed that while the court agreed with about half the clinicians’ recommendations about protection orders and 73% of children’s placements, court orders were likely to be more intrusive and less likely to specify parents as potential carers of the children. The level of salience and concern about the parent problems was related to clinicians’ recommendations for placements and to court protection orders after the assessment. Court orders were more intrusive when the salience was high for mother’s mental health problems and for father’s substance abuse. Overall, the combined findings from patterns and the individual parent problems highlight the inherent complexity of the families referred to the clinic. Patterns and various levels of concern related to the problems uniquely contribute to the clinicians’ recommendations and court decisions about child protection. Particularly mother’s mental health problems were prominent in the clinic and the court outcomes. These analyses shed light on the similarities and differences between recommendations and court orders. They also point to the unique contribution made by clinicians of the clinic, especially in problematic child protection matters.
Keywordschild protection; developmental psychology; clinical psychology; expert assessments; children's court; court decisions; content analysis; parent problems
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