Child Protection, Coronavirus, fear and conceptions.
By Siw L. Karlsen, Trondheim, Norway, 35 years of experience working with families in need of Child Welfare assistance.
Voices in the public claim that children who are in contact with Child Welfare Services are having a lot more difficulty in their homes now because school, kindergarten and leisure activities are closed. That may be right, but there is currently no research to support and claim that this applies to everyone.
Few of us are experienced in dealing with the kind of fear which now takes place in the world. But what we have to assume is that all parents want to protect their children as best they can. For some parents, life has been so difficult that the way they care about their children is not adaptive to their children`s needs for safety and comfort.
Norway’s Child Welfare Services must consider if it is safe enough for the children to live with their parents. If not, they must intervene. These are demanding assessments that must be made at a very demanding time, when all of us are affected by the coronavirus (COVID-19) in different ways.
Many Child Welfare workers fall asleep at night with deeply concerned for children and families they could not help. In Norway, Child Welfare employees have been given the status of “personnel in critical social functions” to look after children. BUFDIR (The Norwegian Directorate for Children, Youth and Family Affairs) has distributed a guide on how to prioritize their work if Child Welfare services lacks staff due to quarantine or/and illness. In short, it says that only urgent cases should be intervened.
This means that if the Child Welfare system has not already taken over the care of the child, it is the child’s parents who are responsible for the daily care of their children.
Some parents protect their children in ways that hurt their children, we know that.
None of the many parents I have met have intentionally wanted to hurt their children.
Mostly they have had a difficult upbringing themselves and are trying to protect their children as best they can against the world, as they see the world themselves. Experiences from a life of insecurity, betrayal, difficult relationships and poverty will often have an impact on how they are parenting their own children.
We must understand human beings based upon what they have experienced in life, what they have not experienced and how they are feeling in the situation right now.
Most of the parents I have collaborated with have the same wishes for their children as most of us; good care, security and good lives.
The coronavirus has caused extra stress for most of us, and it can affect all parents and how we care for our children. For parents who receive help from Child Welfare, it must feel very insulting and degrading to hear that social leaders in Norway think they are extra bad parents now. No one is better off hearing that they have gotten worse. In today’s situation where the resources of the Child Welfare system are reduced, we should avoid hurting parents and adding extra pain and stress. On the contrary, parents need encouragement, respect, recognition, sympathy and security to feel empowered.
To achieve that, we must facilitate supportive relationships for struggling parents, help them to realize the dreams they have for themselves and their children.
Instead of focusing on everything that is not “good enough parenting”, we must help parents to express their love for their children in ways that help children feel protected and loved. In order to trigger parents’ emotional availability, we need to provide practical and financial help that can help to reduce families’ daily stress of life.
researcher Øivin Christiansen (NORCE).
“It is a continuing challenge for the Child Welfare- service to provide appropriate assistance to families. Many parents need much more practical help in their daily lives before they can be guided in attachment, relationship and interaction with their children.”
Resources spent on vulnerable families now are an investment that can save parents and children from a great deal of suffering and the society from large future costs.
In these difficult times, we as a fellow human being, should be more generous and wise than ever. We must ask, be in dialogue, support, respect and acknowledge these parents and listen to what the families themselves think can be helpful. Children rarely feel better than their parents, so we have to work with and support the parents, especially now.
“If a community values its children, it must cherish its mothers” (J. Bowlby 1951)
I think it`s necessary to cherish mothers, fathers, and the adults that are important for each child.
The ideas in this article are based in part on the Dynamic Maturational Model of Attachment and Adaptation (DMM)