Strengthening Families aids preparation but parents still feel disempowered, says study

Researchers find that families still feel disempowered under West Berkshire's approach to initial child protection conferences

Shadow of an adult and child
Credit: Gary Brigden

Most parents still feel disempowered in initial child protection conferences even when they are run under an approached designed to enhance their experience of the process, researchers report.

A study, published in the British Journal of Social Work, examined the views of professionals and parents in West Berkshire towards the Strengthening Families approach and contrasted it with their views towards traditional initial child protection conferences (ICPCs).

The Oxford Brookes University researchers found that most parents had a positive view of the pre-conference preparation under the Strengthening Families model.

They also reported that Strengthening Families increased the emphasis on preparation and families’ wishes than traditional ICPCs.

But most parents continued to feel disempowered during the conference itself.

The researchers found that gaps in training were partly to blame, with professionals other than social workers having not received any training in the Strengthening Families approach.

Although most professionals reported that Strengthening Families ICPCs worked well, 23 of the 30 professionals questioned had criticisms of the approach, including concerns about its informality and the long duration of ICPCs under the method.

The researchers attributed this to professionals being unwilling to change for political or ideological reasons or because of peer pressure to continue using existing methods.

They said their findings indicate that the success of ICPCs depends more on good practice, training and proper preparation than the model used for ICPCs.

The researchers said more work is needed to tackle families’ feeling that they are being judged and powerless during ICPCs and that the lack of training for non-social workers also needed to be addressed.

West Berkshire Council has been using the Strengthening Families approach, which was developed in the USA, since July 2005. The study was based on interviews with 30 professionals and 8 parents.

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