The Role of Professional Child Care Providers in Preventing and Responding to Child Abuse and Neglect
Office on Child Abuse and Neglect, Children's Bureau. Karageorge, Kathy, Kendall, Rosemary|
|Year Published: 2008|
Quality child care depends on a strong partnership between the child care provider and the parents.78 Good working relationships with the families enable the provider to be more responsive to each child's needs. When parents and child care providers work as a team, they can share information and discuss ways to provide consistent care at home and in the child care setting. Providers also are in a unique position to support families when they may be under stress. For example, child care providers are recognized as professionals in child development and behavior management. They can serve as a sounding board for parents, make suggestions for positive parenting, and offer encouragement. In doing so, they play a vital role in supporting the quality of parental care and in preventing child maltreatment.
Offering Ongoing Support for Parents
Many people undertake the job of parenting with little preparation beyond their own experiences growing up. The parenting style and beliefs they experienced may affect significantly how they rear their own children. Even for those fortunate enough to have received a nurturing upbringing, their experiences may be insufficient to meet the parenting needs of their children, especially if the children have special needs or exhibit challenging behaviors. Parents who are isolated from friends or family, who are potential sources of helpful advice and assistance, may find it particularly difficult to cope.
Supportive relationships with child care providers enable parents to be more responsive to the needs of their children and to increase their abilities to care for them. A partnership between child care providers and parents is strengthened by continuous communication and by appreciation for each other's role in caring for the children. The partnership also strengthens as the child care providers and parents see how the children benefit from their teamwork (e.g., a child no longer whines when both parents and caregivers consistently use a system of positive reinforcement, such as saying, "I can hear you only when you speak in your 4-year-old voice.")
The National Association for the Education of Young Children developed a list of program policies that promote partnerships between child care providers and families. The following are examples of these policies:
- The programs should encourage and provide ample opportunities for family participation.
- The family members should have access, after first checking in with the center, to any part of the center, the school, or the family child care home to which children have access.
- Any field trips should include parents, when possible.
- The programs should require in writing that children be released only to parents, to legal guardians, or to those persons authorized by their parents or guardians.
- The programs should inform parents of the child protection practices and procedures that will be taken in response to a complaint.79
The following are additional suggestions for maintaining a strong partnership between child care providers and parents:
- Respond promptly to parents' concerns or questions about their children.
- Help parents focus on their children's accomplishments rather than comparing them to other children the same age.
- Help parents understand the developmental stages through which children progress.
- Tell parents about the good things that happen each day.
- Acknowledge events and transitions in the children's and parents' lives (e.g., a work promotion, a new home).
- Be sensitive to normal feelings of guilt parents may have about leaving their children at child care.
- Keep in touch when the child is absent or ill.
- Maintain confidentiality when parents share sensitive or private information.80
In addition, child care providers may be able to suggest community resources where the parent can receive assistance in a variety of areas, such as child development, health issues, and positive parenting strategies.
Child care providers have a role in preventing child maltreatment and in helping to build strong families by:
Responding to Families in Crisis
Crisis intervention is a short-term, carefully planned, and focused service that addresses the immediate needs of the family. When intervening with a family in crisis, it is important to assess the strengths that the family possesses. A strengths-based orientation provides the opportunity for families to develop or to build upon existing competencies to respond to crisis. Research on family strengths has identified core qualities that help families cope with stress and crisis, as well as meet the needs of each member. See Exhibit 8-1 for a list of those core qualities. Although it is unlikely that every family possesses strengths in all of these areas, it is important for child care providers to help a family in crisis focus on their strengths and resources.
Core Set of Family Qualities for Coping with Stress and Crisis
The qualities that assist a family in coping with stress and crisis, as well as in meeting the needs of each member, include:
Keeping in mind that families do have strengths in responding to crisis and stress, Head Start developed an extensive training guide for responding to families in crisis, including the following eight basic steps for crisis intervention:
- Decide on the role of staff. The staff's primary response to a family in crisis should be to refer the family to a program providing the needed services, which may include a crisis intervention program or a family support program in the community.
- Assess the situation. Ask a series of questions about what happened, if anyone is in danger, who is involved, what triggered the crisis, what the family's immediate needs are, and what to do next.
- Form a family partnership rapidly. Families in crisis are more likely to be open to an intervening individual whom they already know and trust, such as a child care provider.
- Examine contributing elements. Explore the stress-producing situation, the coping strategies (e.g., denial, blaming others), the unmet family responsibilities (e.g., parents not able to pick up children from child care, children left unattended at home), or the lack of support to get through the crisis (e.g., no assistance from community agencies, no other family or friends who can assist).
- Assess family strengths and coping strategies. The intervening individual may identify and reinforce family strengths and resources (e.g., the family has resolved a similar issue in the past), explore the family's current strategies and alternatives for coping with stress (e.g., seeking the assistance of friends and neighbors), and clarify family priorities for reducing stress (e.g., "What do you want to change?").
- Take action. Develop and implement an action plan in response to the family's chosen priorities (e.g., finding the appropriate resources and referrals for the family in crisis).
- Prepare for the termination of crisis intervention services. The intervening individual needs to inform the family that crisis intervention services are both intensive and short-term.
- Follow up. Follow-up ensures that the type, the quality, and the timeliness of the services received through referrals met the family's expectations and circumstances. The child care staff can ask the family if the services met their needs and if there is any other assistance they need.83
Head Start also has developed techniques for defusing a crisis, including active listening, information sharing, modeling a sense of humor and fun, showing enthusiasm, and instilling realistic hope. For more information on supporting families in crisis, visit the Head Start website at http://www.headstartinfo.org/publications/supportingfam_crisis/mod3.htm.
Crisis Intervention Scenario
The following is a scenario of how a child care provider might use Head Start's recommended eight steps to support a family during a crisis.
A mother arrives to pick up her children from the center. The child care provider notices that the mother is distraught and asks if everything is okay. The mother explains that she was recently laid off from her long-time job and is not sure how she will be able to pay her bills. She feels totally overwhelmed, and although she has not maltreated her children, she knows she has been taking out her frustrations on them. The child care provider lets the mother know that she wants to work together with the family to help resolve the problem. After talking about the situation, the child care provider realizes that the mother has avoided telling family and friends about her problems because she does not want to burden them. The child care provider knows that the mother's family and friends have helped her in the past with other problems, such as illnesses. She encourages the mother to use this important resource and also provides her with some stress management materials from the center's resource library. She also lets the mother know that she can refer her to a community job placement center that the child care center has worked with in the past. The following week, the provider checks in with the mother, who has used the job placement center to find a new job, tried to use some of the stress management techniques, and is feeling a little more at ease at home. The provider writes herself a note to continue to check in with the mother.
Providing Parent Education and Information About Community Resources
Early childhood care providers should not be expected to function as social workers or as therapists to the families they serve. However, they are in a good position to establish strong working alliances with the children's parents. These alliances can be used to refer parents to community- and faith-based programs, clinics, or self-help groups for appropriate support, guidance, or therapy.
To enhance parenting skills and to prevent child abuse and neglect, parents can benefit from various instructional and support services. Parent education may include group classes or one-on-one conversations between parents and child care providers. The specific content and structure for parent education programs will vary depending on the sponsoring agency or institution. The basic goals for parent education programs include:
- Increasing a parent's knowledge of the stages of child development and the demands of parenting;
- Enhancing a parent's skill in coping with the stresses of child care;
- Enhancing parent-child bonding, emotional ties, and communication;
- Increasing a parent's knowledge about how to manage a home and children;
- Reducing the demands of caring for a child by providing respite for the parents (e.g., hiring a babysitter for the evening);
- Increasing access to social and health services for all family members.84
Parent education may be offered by a number of organizations and institutions, such as hospitals, universities, community- and faith-based programs, employee assistance programs, and high schools offering adult education classes. Child care providers can help parents access these programs by spreading the word about them and by encouraging parents to attend. Providers also can support parent education by modeling developmentally appropriate practices for interacting with and for taking care of children.
Making a referral for services can require skill and patience. Child care programs can have a list of resources readily available in case a family needs assistance beyond what can be offered by the child care provider. Directors and staff at child care programs may want to establish personal contacts with individuals in various community agencies so that the referral process can proceed as smoothly and as quickly as possible.
For additional information about how child care providers can support parents and families, see Appendix I, Family Support Strategies. For handouts that providers can give to parents seeking or needing additional information about effective parenting, see Appendix D, Handouts for Parents. An additional resource on strengthening families and on preventing child maltreatment is the Child Welfare Information Gateway prevention site, which features Promoting Healthy Families in Your Community: 2008 Resource Packet.
Child care providers can perform an essential role in the prevention and the reporting of child maltreatment. With their near-daily contact with both the children and the parents in the families with which they work, they are in a unique situation in the community to detect problems and to provide assistance and support. In order to serve families effectively, child care providers should educate themselves and receive training on child abuse and neglect topics. Program directors should ensure that proper protocols are in place to manage any issues that may arise and that these protocols are known and understood by their staff. Child care programs also can work in conjunction with other community agencies and organizations, including CPS and service providers, to develop a network of support for families at risk of child maltreatment.
This material may be freely reproduced and distributed. However, when doing so, please credit Child Welfare Information Gateway.