The Evidence Portal

Address parental risk factors

Flexible activity

In this activity, practitioners work directly with parents to address key maltreatment risk factors. Parental risk factors may include substance misuse, unplanned pregnancy, poor mental health etc. 

Addressing parental risk factors can ensure parents are in the best place possible to care for their children and keep them safe. It can also ensure parents have the capacity to develop their parenting skills and meaningful engage with supports that are provided.

How can it be implemented?

This activity is typically implemented through existing home visits. Case managers work directly with families to identify and address risk factors (or potential risk factors). This can be achieved a number of different ways, including:

  • Individual support plans: can be used to help parents identify what support they need and what goals they want to achieve.
  • Motivational interviewing: can be used to motivate parents to make necessary changes in their lives. 

The frequency and length of home visits should be based on the needs of clients. The approach taken to address parental risk factors may inform all the work that is undertaken with a family. Alternatively, a practitioner may have specific sessions on ‘managing substance misuse’, for example. 

You should use your professional judgement to determine what is most appropriate for your client/s.

Home visits can also be supplemented with online content.

What should I consider when working with Aboriginal people and communities?

Connection to community and culture is a protective factor for the wellbeing of Aboriginal people and so should be foundational to all service provision (Kiraly et al, 2014).

See the Cultural Safety and Wellbeing Evidence Review for further guidance on how to deliver culturally safe services and improve outcomes for Aboriginal people.

Who is the target group?

Activities that seeks to address key parental risk factors have been implemented with a number of different target groups. Key characteristics include:

  • Parents on methadone maintenance and with children aged 2-8 years old.
  • Families at risk of child maltreatment, including those with substance abuse problems, prior maltreatment reports, or intimate partner violence.

What programs conduct this activity?

  • In the Healthy Families America program, parental risk factors are addressed by developing Individual Family Support Plans that establish goals and reinforce strengths and help parents address issues such as substance abuse, mental illness and domestic violence.
  • The e-Parenting program includes a home visit, combined with online software, to address key maltreatment risk factors, including substance use, partner violence and mental illness. The session uses motivational interviewing to help parents identify their reason for making change in a key risk factor. 
  • In the New Zealand Early Start Program, home visitors work with parents to improve their physical and mental health. They address issues like unplanned pregnancies, early detection and treatment of depression and assist with other mental health issues and substance use disorders.
  • The Parents Under Pressure program includes a home-visiting module on ‘Managing Substance Problems’. This module works with parents to ensure they’re not at risk of substance abuse problems, such as drinking too much alcohol.

What else should I consider?

Parental risk factors are commonly associated with child abuse and neglect. However, they may not be the reason that neglect has (or could) occur. Practitioners must determine whether risk factors are directly contributing to neglect or whether the risk factor is related to other problems that are directly contributing to the neglect. For example, parents may turn to drugs and/or alcohol to deal with stress or an underlying mental health issue.

When considering all risk factors, practitioners must also consider the protective factors that exist for the family and how they interact with the risks.

Further resources

Last updated:

25 Nov 2022

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We acknowledge Aboriginal people as the First Nations Peoples of NSW and pay our respects to Elders past, present, and future. 

Informed by lessons of the past, Department of Communities and Justice is improving how we work with Aboriginal people and communities. We listen and learn from the knowledge, strength and resilience of Stolen Generations Survivors, Aboriginal Elders and Aboriginal communities.

You can access our apology to the Stolen Generations.

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