Abstract: Exploring the Construct and Use of Hope with Involuntary Child Welfare Clients (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

Exploring the Construct and Use of Hope with Involuntary Child Welfare Clients

Sunday, January 20, 2019: 8:30 AM
Union Square 19 Tower 3, 4th Floor (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Julie Altman, PhD, Professor, California State University, Monterey, Seaside, CA
Emilee Pakele, BA, MSW Student, California State University, Monterey, Seaside, CA
Background and Purpose  Parents who abuse and/or neglect their children seem to emerge as perennial pariahs in the public mind, and to some degree, the minds of social workers and social work students. Yet, much research serves to underscore the resilience of these mothers and fathers in the face of adverse agency and community conditions. The persistent, parent-reported endorsement of hope of family reunification following removal of a child, found in our recent quantitative, empirical work, suggests that there is more we have yet to understand and capitalize on in our challenging work with these parents.

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.