Child protection workers' experiences of working with high-conflict separating families
This qualitative study explored child welfare workers’ perceptions of working with high-conflict families. Four focus groups with 28 child welfare workers were conducted at an urban child welfare organization in Ontario. Grounded theory analyses revealed several themes pertaining to workers’ perceptions of high-conflict families and how to work with them through the child welfare system. Participants expressed differing views about the definition of ‘high-conflict’ and how high-conflict intersects with other child welfare issues. Identified common characteristics of high-conflict families include the presence of manipulation through the child welfare system in order to solicit support, a state of perpetual crisis, a lack of communication between parents, and domestic violence. Participants expressed a lack of clarity around the role of child welfare with high-conflict families and frustration when working with professionals outside of child welfare. Working with high-conflict families had a significant emotional impact for participants. Feelings of being caught in the middle and trepidation were identified as factors that negatively impacted the worker’s ability to support families. Due to their excessive needs high-conflict families were identified as taking time from other child maltreatment cases. Participants suggested training, specialized teams, and collaboration with systems outside of child welfare as potential areas of development.