“In the group this week a mother became very upset and shared that she shouts at her children regularly and they appear frightened by her extreme emotion. She feels that this could have long-term effects on them and asked if we (the facilitators) thought they were being emotionally abused by her”.
When running Parents Plus groups, facilitators will often have to deal with situations where a parent makes a disclosure around Child Protection and Welfare issues. In the group setting these are challenging scenarios to deal with but if managed sensitively with the parent and the group they can provide learning and development for all. In this scenario, the facilitators will need to address a number of issues. Firstly, they will need to respond to and acknowledge this mother’s distress around what is happening at home. The fact that she is attending a Parents Plus group means that she is already committed to finding positive ways to handle her parenting challenges and her own responses to her children. Facilitators should acknowledge this and set the conversation they have with her in a strengths-based direction. For example a constructive response might be:
Facilitator: “It sounds like this is very distressing for your children and yourself.” [Express support]
“I also understand your concern about the possible long term effects on your children” [Appreciate positive intention]
“As you already know this course recommends many positive parenting and discipline strategies in place of negative strategies such as, shouting. From what you have said you want to change your responses and you are here to find ways that you can positively manage the children’s behaviour and your own reactions, would that be right?” [Correction and goal suggestion]
The aim for the facilitator is to try to engage with the mother in a way that feels supportive to her while also handling the child protection concerns raised. A good way to manage this would be to offer this mother a follow-up conversation at the end of the group to discuss further with her the detail involved and to give clarity around what constitutes emotional abuse and what the service policy is when a child protection concern is raised. For example, “Let’s talk at the end of the group today, we can discuss the problem further to see what other supports you might need to address this.”
However, it may also be useful for the group to think about their own responses, so the facilitator may decide to use this opportunity to draw out some ideas from this parent and from the group on how to change their responses and move away from shouting or other negative strategies.
If the facilitator remains concerned about the welfare of the child/children it is a good idea to seek consultation with another person about how best to proceed. Discuss the issue first with your co-facilitator, but also consider contacting your supervisor or the designated liaison person you have identified above. It is generally best to consult and formulate a plan. Best practice would be to inform the parent of the need to make an onward referral, unless doing so is likely to endanger the child.
The big challenge here is that this mother may drop out of the group if she feels the facilitator is ‘reporting’ her to Social Work services. It can be helpful here to be explicit around your goal of wanting her to continue attending the group so that what she learns in the programme can provide her with the skills and an opportunity for a turning point, where she commits to using the positive parenting and discipline strategies, learns ways to manage her own stress and emotional responses and turns away from the angry responses she has described.
When delivering a Parents Plus group you are doing so under the remit of the child protection policy of your agency. It is therefore important that you are aware of the child protection policy that applies in your context (e.g. a school) and of having identified a designated person or supervisor within your agency, with whom you can consult on challenging issues. Within the parent group, child protection is addressed in a few ways. At the outset, it is important for facilitators to set up the group rules with participants during the first session and give the position on child protection and welfare at that point (see the Introduction in the Parent Booklet). Specifically, draw parents’ attention to the impact child protection and welfare concerns has on confidentiality and that in line with group facilitator’s responsibilities under Child Protection Policy there is a limit to group confidentiality in this regard. During the group, facilitators have a responsibility to constructively intervene in the group when child protection concerns arise. As described in the example above, strengths-based principles are useful in these cases. Your goal is to first support the parent and affirm what they are doing right before offering some guidance.
Eileen Brosnan, Senior Parents Plus Trainer