“It Makes Me Step Back a Little…Check Myself”: Parental Identity and Mandated Participation among Parents Involved with the Child Welfare System

  • Sarah N. WolfordEmail author
  • Lenore M. McWey
Original Article


The child welfare system (CWS) is designed to protect children from maltreatment. One avenue through which the CWS aims to do so is by mandating participation in parenting interventions. There are notable challenges associated with mandated services, however, and participant drop out is a key concern. Researchers have examined factors associated with retention, and participants’ beliefs about parenting and their parental identity may be linked with intervention engagement. Although theory and research on parental identity is growing, little of this work is specific to parents involved with the CWS. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to examine parental identity in the context of CWS involvement and mandated services. The study involved analysis of existing qualitative data collected through interviews with 35 parents who participated in a parenting intervention. Interviews were analyzed using a thematic approach guided by open, axial and selective coding principles. Findings identified that parental identity is influenced by CWS and mandated intervention participation through three main themes: (1) Loss of Parental Control Over Parent-Child Interactions, (2) Internal Shifts in Parental Beliefs and Emotions, and parental reflections on the (3) Transmission of Core Values. Each theme represented experiences of identity disruption alongside positive shifts in parental identity, such as enhanced beliefs about self and parental responsibilities. Further, parents described re-evaluating themselves in their role and expressed shifts in thought patterns and perceptions. Results challenge professionals to consider the CWS context as integral to parental identity and encourage researchers to examine parental identity as a mechanism of change.


Child welfare system Parental beliefs Parental identity Parenting intervention Social information processing 



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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Marriage and Family Therapy Program, Division of Applied SciencesPfeiffer University (Charlotte)CharlotteUSA
  2. 2.Department of Family and Child Sciences, College of Human SciencesFlorida State UniversityTallahasseeUSA

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