Parenting Assessments in Child Welfare Cases: A Practical Guide

Article excerpt

TERRY D. PEZZOT-PEARCE and JOHN PEARCE Parenting Assessments in Child Welfare cases: A Practical Guide Toronto, ON: University of Toronto Press, 2004, 398 pages (ISBN 0-80208-654-3, CDN$39.95 Paperback; ISBN 0-80208-702-7, CDN$75.00 Cloth)

This book sets out to fulfil four major goals that can be summarized as follows: 1) presenting a model for comprehensive parenting assessments; 2) setting out the practical steps to be taken in such assessments; 3) identifying potential errors in carrying out assessments; and 4) providing critical considerations, identified by the authors as "practice alerts."

These goals are fulfilled in exhaustive fashion, thus providing a comprehensive text for those called upon to make such complex judgments. In fact I would suggest that the book could well be titled a practical and theoretical guide for parenting assessments in child welfare and in consideration of custody and access decision-making. Though there are important differences between the two tasks, the theoretical and experiential background required are the same, as indeed are the processes and practical steps to be taken in conducting assessments. The authors themselves acknowledge that there is a common context. While they indicate that custody and access is not intended as a specific focus of the book, there are references throughout to both scenarios. In addition, it is important to be aware of possible overlaps that may occur, for instance, if an assessor in a custody situation becomes aware of neglect or abuse sufficient to warrant intervention.

A refrain throughout the book is the reminder that the central question in parenting assessments is: Can this parent meet the needs of this particular child; Once this is understood then the complexity of the work becomes apparent. The task goes beyond assessing the parent to considering and assessing the child's needs, the relationships and interactions between child, parent, and other caregivers, as well as the broader contextual aspects such as social and community supports, income, occupation, etc. After taking us through preliminary consideration of the common issues involved, the authors use the next five chapters to cover all the factors to be taken into consideration. I appreciated the fact that the two chapters on child factors deal separately with normal or typical child development and specific atypical factors. While coverage of the full range of child development knowledge that any assessor should possess would warrant a text book in itself, it is useful to have the summary information given here. It includes the central and key issue of attachment as well as physical and emotional care and the child's emotional, behavioural, and cognitive development. The chapter on atypical development covers temperament, developmental disorders of various kinds, alcohol- and drug-impacted children, as well as attention and learning problems.

The two chapters on parent factors cover personal characteristics and contextual sources of support or stress. Appropriate weight is given to parental history, including experience of being parented themselves, mental health and addictions, presence or absence of abuse or violence in their own experience. There is also discussion of the impact of adolescent parenthood and of the possibility of cognitive limitations. Discussion of parental context includes concrete and practical factors such as income and residence. Social factors concern themselves particularly with whether these are supportive or detrimental to good parenting. Relationships with family and friends as well as partner are covered. A particularly useful and relevant contribution to the literature is the coverage of religion, cultural background, and identity as well as considerations related to homosexuality.

Before launching into the assessment itself, the authors present one other chapter that has considerable practical value for anyone in this field of practice, and particularly for beginners. …