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Child protection workers' experiences of working with high-conflict separating families


  • Saini, Michael
  • Black, Tara
  • Lwin, Kristen
  • Marshall, Alena
  • Fallon, Barbara
  • Goodman, Deborah


Ongoing acrimonious conflict between separating parents can challenge child protection workers charged with the responsibility of investigating repeated allegations, especially when parents vigorously deflect blame to the other parent. There remains little evidence, however to guide practice when working with high-conflict families. The aim of this grounded theory approach was to explore child protection workers' perspectives of working with high-conflict families. Four focus groups with 28 child protection workers were conducted in a large metropolitan agency. Findings revealed an overall lack of consensus regarding the definition of high-conflict families. Participants expressed being challenged by the lack of training and experience to work with disputing parents involved in high-conflict. Participants also expressed that these cases require a substantial amount of resources, time, energy and emotional fortitude to deal with competing allegations of child maltreatment, the manipulation of acrimonious parents and the pressures of the family law system to take positions regarding custody and access issues. The study offers greater awareness of the challenges and opportunities of helping children who are caught between their parents' child custody disputes within the context of child protection services.

Suggested Citation

  • Saini, Michael & Black, Tara & Lwin, Kristen & Marshall, Alena & Fallon, Barbara & Goodman, Deborah, 2012. "Child protection workers' experiences of working with high-conflict separating families," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 34(7), pages 1309-1316.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:cysrev:v:34:y:2012:i:7:p:1309-1316
    DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2012.03.005

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    Cited by:

    1. Toros, Karmen & Tiko, Anne & Saia, Koidu, 2013. "Child-centered approach in the context of the assessment of children in need: Reflections of child protection workers in Estonia," Children and Youth Services Review, Elsevier, vol. 35(6), pages 1015-1022.


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