Support Groups for Impacted Parents
When the child welfare system removes children from their homes, parents experience extraordinary grief. They also experience loss related to their identity as parents. However, they grieve without the rituals or support that typically accompany loss.
When children are removed, isolation can deepen shame and shame can deepen isolation. Stigma, too, keeps parents from talking about the trauma they’ve endured. “If you say, ‘I’ve been involved with this system,’” explained one parent advocate, “people say, ‘Oh, so you’re a child abuser?’ They see you as a monster mum.’”
One way that parent advocates support parents impacted by the child welfare system is by facilitating support groups. Bringing together parents who have experienced the trauma of child welfare involvement is not easy. Group leaders need to help the group create norms that build safety and protect against further trauma and judgement.
Peer support groups also have the potential to help parents know that they are not alone. Groups can build a shared understanding of how race, class, discrimination and historical trauma impacts families and brings them disproportionately to the attention of child welfare. Groups can help parents envision and work for change in their own lives and in the world around them.
Addressing Grief and Loss, Canada
The Grief and Loss Education and Action Project
This paper and PowerPoint describe The Grief and Loss Education and Action Project, a support group held in Toronto, Canada, for mothers whose parental rights were terminated because of drug use and street work.
- Ants Facing an Elephant: This paper offers examples of different types of activities groups can use to support parents, from story-sharing and consciousness-raising to art and social action.
- Beyond Bereavement: A Women’s Grief and Loss Education Action Project: This PowerPoint about the group’s activities includes information about supervision for group leaders (at the end).
Acknowledging Trauma and Supporting Safety, The United States
At Rise, writing and discussion groups are often an important first step for parents in making sense of their child welfare experiences. But writing about past traumatic events and hearing about the traumatic experiences of other parents can be triggering. Parent advocates can read and discuss this resource in groups to help group members develop a shared understanding of what trauma is, how it affects people, and how everyone can protect themselves while in the group
Read one parent’s story of how a support group helped her forgive herself for her own pain and be present for her daughter’s pain.
Reducing Isolation, The United States
Isolation has been shown to contribute to child welfare involvement. Bringing parents together to share, learn and grow together can keep some parents from ever coming to the attention of child welfare while supporting them in building stronger, happier families.
Parent Cafés is a movement that has been spreading across the United States and offers an example of how group work can be used to keep child protection from ever coming into families’ lives.