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Parents’ pasts and families’ futures: Using family assessments to inform perspectives on reasonable efforts

Smithgall, C., DeCoursey, J., Yang, D., and Haseltine, L. – 2012

Report on a study of child welfare-involved parents who have experienced extensive childhood trauma themselves. The study examined parental information taken from child welfare assessment reports in cases involving a child’s removal from the home. Analysis shows that the most common adverse childhood experiences (ACE) among the parents were loss of a parent and living with someone who abused alcohol or drugs. Parents also experienced abuse and exposure to violence. A significant number of the parents had high ACE scores (4 or more). Analysis of parental narratives from the assessment reports reveals severe exposure to childhood trauma and the development of coping mechanisms (particularly alcohol and drug abuse) in adolescence. Parents with high ACE scores had lower levels of education and unstable employment histories. Service needs of the parents include mental health and substance abuse treatment, although many are reluctant to seek out services. Authors discuss implications of the study, noting the need for services for parents involved in the child welfare system, and how addressing parental issues can improve reunification outcomes and child well-being.