Perceptions of the influences upon the parent-professional relationship in a context of early intervention and child protection
Relationship-based practice provides a medium for implementation of strategies in early intervention and child protection. Scottish policy promotes a parent-professional partnership based upon honesty and trust. Little is known of the impact from personal, social, and cultural influences. This study had four aims: to investigate these influences through perceptions of parents and professionals, to compare perceptions of service-users and service-providers, to compare perceptions of professionals from three disciplines, and to investigate contextual factors which accompanied a change in perceptions. Previous studies linked positive outcomes to convergence of perceptions. The methodological approach was interpretivism. Qualitative data was collected from an integrated team of 21 health, education, and social work professionals, and 9 birth mothers affected by addictions and mental health issues. Thematic analysis was applied to interview transcripts, and documentary analysis to a 12 year case file. Parent-professional communicational styles facilitated the creation of a therapeutic alliance and indicated direct informal signalling of need. This led to timely implementation of intervention in the pre-crisis period. Participants agreed on the transferability of this positive relationship to the post-crisis context. An established therapeutic alliance was used by professionals to support parents' relationships with other service-providers. Consensus of professional opinion suggested collective practice by this integrated team. Service-users perceived child protection as a positive, developmental influence. Conversely service-providers expressed negativity associated with physical and emotional harm, and forensic investigation. This variance represented potential weakness in the organisational capacity of the parent-professional dyad. Formation of perceptions was linked to the community culture through childhood experiences and observational learning. Documentary analysis identified a lack of professional response to positive change in a parent's perceptions. Findings indicated that personal, social, and cultural influences may be perceived as strengthening and weakening the parent-professional relationship. It is recommended that perceptions should be recognised within policy and practice in order to optimise positivity, minimise negativity, and to support convergence.