Parental engagement in child protection assessment practice: Voices from parents

Rafaela Lehtme & Karmen Toros - Children and Youth Services Review


Internationally, parental engagement is considered crucial in child welfare practice in terms of client change and the potential to improve client outcomes. However, parental engagement is challenging for child welfare practice. This article describes the empirical results of perspectives and experiences of 11 parents’ engagement in child protection assessment practice through in-depth semi-structured interviews in one county in North Estonia. Two conceptual models were used to analyse parental engagement: the family engagement model and the differential or alternative response model.

Findings indicate the decisive element in successful engagement is most related to the personal characteristics and communication skills of the worker, especially their ability to create a trusting climate at the beginning of the relationship and maintain supportive communication throughout the working process. When parents’ belief in collaboration and willingness to cooperate were weakened by a negative attitude and mistrust from the worker, they felt let down by the system. True engagement proved to exist only in a supportive environment created by the worker, and parents’ initial willingness to cooperate was never enough to sustain good collaboration. Finally, parents who experienced a supportive attitude and engagement felt they were participating voluntarily and recognised the relationship with the worker as beneficial for them.