Study reveals: when mother leaves abusive relationship, child protection workers lay responsibility with mother

The master’s thesis “Child protection workers’ interpretations of parenting in assessments”, defended in the University of Tartu this year, reveals that child protection workers have different expectations for mothers and fathers. Besides, they see a mother who leaves a violent relationship as the responsible one, and disregard the father’s role.

The aim of the master’s thesis was to understand how child protection workers see the situation in the families, while they assess the parents and their roles. The study showed that child protection workers anticipate cooperativeness and the ability to change from parents, and expect them to admit problems existing in the family. Although child protection workers say that all parents may and do sometimes err, they describe a good parent as having idealistic characteristics, as someone who in their opinion should have certain personal properties and principles.

“What child protection workers deem important in a good parent is mutual trust between the parent and the child, being guided by the best interests of the child, being caring, unconditionally loving, able to set safe boundaries and do parental cooperation,” said author of the thesis Helen Hein, who believes that child protection workers might be more effective in their everyday work if they made their decisions based on the specific parent’s capability, skills and knowledge. This would enable them to help the child and the entire family more efficently, find suitable services and support measures for the family.

The study revealed that child protection workers have different expectations for mothers and fathers – fathers are less involved and mothers are seen as carrying the main responsibility for children. “For example, the mother is associated with unconditional love, caring for and developing the child, and with parenting matters. Fathers, however, are associated with playfulness, adventurous activities and being a role model for the child,” said the recent postgraduate Hein and added: “Also, when the mother left an abusive relationship, the child protection workers who participated in the research laid the responsibility on the mother and disregarded the father’s role.” According to Hein, the child protection workers sympathised more with the fathers and did not consider the fathers’ parenting mistakes to be as severe as the mothers’.

Additional information: Helen Hein, +372 555 74 234,

Viivika Eljand-Kärp
Press Officer of the UT
Phone: +372 737 5683
Mobile: +372 5354 0689