This unexpected finding, part of the results of a sequential, exploratory mixed-method study of engagement in child welfare, is more carefully examined in this presentation. Using secondary analysis of qualitative interview data already collected from a population of non-voluntary mothers in the U.S. child welfare system, we endeavored to answer the following research question: How do non-voluntary child welfare parent clients understand and use hope as an attribute in worker-parent engagement? Findings from this research should then inform how hope may be fostered and encouraged as a tool for practice working with non-voluntary clients in child welfare.
Methods Multiple, intensive interviews were completed with 16 mothers whose children were removed from their care. The average age of this group was 37; 75% of them identified as Latinx; 12.5% as African-American, 12.5% as White. The interview schedule covered how these women conceptualized and defined their engagement in the child welfare system, and how they viewed the development, promotion, and outcomes of engaging with service providers. Data were transcribed, coded, and analyzed according to constant comparative protocol. Data collection continued until a point of saturation in coding was reached.
Results Three hope related themes emerged from these data: 1) how parents nurtured their hope of reunification, or the processes they engaged in to sustain hope that their children would come home to them, primarily in the context of reciprocal relationships; 2) how parents forged their unique hope pathways, or identification of the multiple choices of actions they could select from in attaining the forward progress toward their goal of reunification; and 3) how parents developed hope agency, or their personal appraisal, recognition, and ownership / control of actions related to progress toward their goals.
Conclusions and Implications Leveraging the initial hope of reunification that parents bring to early child welfare encounters could have significant potential in effecting collaborative work between involuntary client parents and service providers. This work has been shown to be instrumental in reducing the level of family violence in many communities. Findings from this qualitative study suggest that parents’ hope, a construct endorsed strongly by child welfare involved parents as facilitative, can be used as a tool for positive change, relationship building, insight, and goal-oriented progress. Further implications of these findings for future-oriented, prospective practice in child welfare will be shared, with specific application to the parent-worker working relationship.