Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Community and Family Health

Major Professor

Martha L. Coulter, Dr.P.H.

Committee Member

Mary Armstrong, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Peter Gorski, M.D.

Committee Member

Carla VandeWeerd, Ph.D.


child maltreatment, family centered care, qualitative, empowerment, parent


Growing up in a family environment that includes child maltreatment can result in an array of negative consequences for children, including health, behavioral, developmental, and social difficulties, and these consequences can persist over the lifetime. Families who have come to the attention of child welfare services for child maltreatment are at particularly high risk for experiencing multiple concurrent problems, including intimate partner violence, substance abuse, and mental health issues, as well as other family challenges. It is essential to intervene effectively with this population. However, there are few qualitative studies of parent experiences in the child welfare system through which to better understand parents' perspectives and identify additional or more effective points of intervention. This exploratory study utilized a mixed-methods design, primarily focusing on in-depth qualitative interviews with parents in the child welfare system, to explore participants' lived experiences within the continuum of child welfare services. Participants in this study experienced a range of interconnected stressors that impacted both their ability to effectively parent their children as well as successfully complete the services required of them by the child welfare system. Qualitative interviews revealed that parents experienced an overall lack of empowerment, effective communication, and support through their experience with the child welfare system, until they accessed the therapeutic services they were required to attend near the end of their time in the system. Parents were more responsive when services were more supportive, rather than punitive, and individualized to their needs and strengths. This study suggests that systematically implementing more individualized, family-centered services throughout the continuum of services provided by the child welfare system would be effective in intervening with families. Findings also indicate the need for continued qualitative research with parents to address both areas of intervention for families who have already maltreated their children and the prevention of maltreatment and other related stressors in families who are at risk.