When Parent Involvement Is Not Optional

I use this term because it is unique from the traditional procedures of finding residential help for struggling teens. These are troubled children who have enough problems they need a residential experience where they cannot manipulate their parents or others around them. To be successful with these children the residential program must have skilled staff working with them 24 hours a day. Traditionally, when a parent had an “acting out” child, the usual procedure was to go to some professional for help. The parent might go to a Doctor, hoping the Doctor could find a place or therapist that would help, or go to State Social Services and hope the problem was serious enough that the state would place the child in a suitable place. Or, if the child was doing something illegal, the parent might even report the child hoping the court system and Juvenile Justice could give him/her the help needed. In this traditional procedure, the professional was the decision maker and the parents were mostly passive bystanders in both finding a suitable place and in the treatment. The model these professionals often had were the parents were the problem, and professionals were the solution.

Although society has come a long way from those days, I still at times find this old attitude on the part of some professionals who by their actions, and sometimes by their words, seem to be telling the parents – “You screwed up your kid. Bring him/her to us, don’t bother us, and we’ll fix the child.”

With this attitude and philosophy, parents are optional. Of course, many professionals working with kids, placed by professionals, make attempts to involve the parents in the intervention. Still, everybody knows parents involved with this kind of program are optional, powerless and could be removed from the intervention at any time some professional thinks they are being a bother. The only antidote to this sense of powerlessness is Parent Empowerment through the parents having real responsibility and power in decision-making regarding their child.

All the research I’ve read has concluded the most important factor in a child’s education, healing or even just growing up is the involvement of the parents. The Internet is full of tips and ideas for professionals about how to get parents more involved in both their children’s schools and in his/her healing. The problem is most of these efforts are attempts to get parents to do what the professionals want done, in the way the professionals want. The net result is that parents are still relatively powerless, with limited responsibilities, and they often act accordingly – with lukewarm involvement. Not only do parents in this situation sometimes feel powerless and thus show modest interest, they sometimes also get the sense of entitlement – which means they think they deserve the service without having to do anything on their own.

One example that comes to mind is a situation I watched when a public school district needing money for play ground equipment for the children asked the school parent group to help. A chili feed was put together and financially it was a success, raising enough money for the equipment. This was good, but I noticed among the parents were doctors, lawyers, contractors and many other parents with successful careers.

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