Informal Support and Legal Intervention
Informal Support Networks
The informal social networks of neglectful parents are typically closed, unstable, and tend to be dominated by often critical, non-supportive relatives. They do not provide the kinds of tangible aid, advice and guidance, or social and emotional support that parents often call on to help with parenting. The members of their social networks typically share and reinforce the neglectful parenting norms and behavior. Neglectful families often lack the social skills to maintain or to expand their social networks.
Interventions to enhance network supports include:
- Direct intervention by the professional into the family's support network (e.g., neighbors, siblings, and children's fathers) to mediate, facilitate communication, problem solve, modify, and reframe negative, dysfunctional perceptions of the neglectful parent and/or the parent's negative perceptions of members of their support networks.
- Use of volunteers and parent aides to expand and enrich impoverished resources of networks, and provide new information, positive norms, and helpful suggestions about child care.
- Social skills training to teach basic communication, and social skills individually and in parent support groups through modeling, practice, rehearsal, and reinforcement. Teaching neglectful parents to make and maintain friendships and to reciprocate aid received from others facilitates mutually supportive linkages.
- Parent support groups that provide safe opportunities for development of social skills and for making new friends to expand networks of support.
- Identification, linking, and consultation with indigenous neighborhood natural helpers (neighbors with recognized natural helping skills) to enhance the parent's informal helping network.
- Linking neglectful parents with existing supportive resources in the community; e.g., church, school, or neighborhood groups.
Involvement of law enforcement and the courts is less frequently used with neglectful families than in the case of physical and sexual abuse. Legal intervention is sometimes necessary, however, to ensure the safety of the neglected child and to bring about change in the family system. Formal confrontation in court of the family's failure to meet minimally adequate child care standards may create the tension necessary for the family to see the unacceptability of its child care, and to move toward providing adequate care. More often, the confrontation that comes from the neglect report and the CPS investigation is sufficient to mobilize family energy toward needed change.
Termination of Parental Rights - In extreme cases of child neglect, when persistent intervention efforts have failed to bring about the necessary minimally adequate level of care, and the family's response offers little hope of providing adequate care, court action to terminate parental rights is necessary to free the child for adoption. A decision to pursue termination of parental rights should be made only after consultation with CPS, other professionals, and after exhausting all alternatives for preserving the family. Termination proceedings in court require factual observations, written documentation, and witnesses if available, to convince the court of the wisdom and justice of this action. The presumption in most juvenile and family courts is in favor of the rights of the biological parent. Convincing evidence must be presented to prove that parental care is less than minimally adequate, likely to remain so, and that adoption is the least detrimental alternative for the child.
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