Stap 4

Investigate further your concerns and if parents are willing to cooperate

Most parents have their child’s best interests at heart – the problems are more a result of “not being able to” rather than “not wanting to”. 

In step 4, you continue to investigate the feeling that something is not right that you had in step 2. It is important to have a broad overview of the situation here, zoom out. 

Points of attention

  • Collect additional data to make an assessment of the situation. In doing so, look at both the risk factors and the protective factors.  
  • Look at both the risk factors and the protective factors. Is there an accumulation of risk factors and an absence of protective factors?  
  • If necessary, use an assessment tool that identifies the blind spots. 
  • Listen to key people (partner, children, grandparents, …) If you involve children, you need their permission. After all, from the age of 12, children are already allowed to make a lot of decisions for themselves. 
  • Keep in mind that your own values, norms and experiences influence the way you interpret the situation. Therefore, always discuss the results with a fellow counsellor or expert before you talk to the client again. 
  • If in doubt, contact a mandated facility Confidential Centre for Child Abuse (CCCA)] or a Youth Support Centre (YSC)] by phone (anonymously). 
  • State your concerns concretely in a conversation with the client and be open to alternative explanations. 
  • Put together all the collected information and decide as a team if the situation is troubling. 
  • If you decide that the situation is troubling, continue to assess whether the client is willing to change the situation. 
  • Make a note in the file if the home situation is troubling and if there is willingness on the client’s part. 
  • Do not overstep your own competencies. Involve a colleague from your own facility or regional network if you are not sure. 

Risk factors and protective factors

What risk factors should you look out for? 

Risk factors in the parent and the family: 

    • Risk factors in the parent and the family: 
    • Parent with a history of abuse 
    • Parent with low education 
    • Parent with limited cognitive ability 
    • Parent with an addiction, mental health problem or personality disorder 
    • Parent with a lack of empathy for the child
    • Parent who deals with others in a destructive way 
    • Parent with rigid and poor communication patterns 
    • Families with partner violence 
    • Relationship problems with the parents, including divorce and divorce battles. 
    • Pregnancy
    • Stress factors (financial problems, unemployment, lack of perspective…) 
    • Social isolation  

Risk factors in the environment: 

    • Poverty 
    • Weak social network 
    • Crime 
    • Violence in the living environment 
    • Lack of adequate childcare 
    • Some cultures where honor-related violence occurs 
    • Some cultures where genital mutilation occurs 

Risk factors for the child: 

    • Unwanted child 
    • Child with a disease or a disability 
    • Child with a difficult personality, a behavioral or developmental problem 
    • Stepchild, foster child or adopted child
    • Prematurely born child (increased risk of attachment problems) 
    • Child between the age of 0 and 3 (more vulnerable, dependent, demanding and self-centred) 
    • Large family of 3 or more children 
    • Limited social skills 

What protective factors should you pay attention to? 

Protective factors for the parent and the family: 

  • Less severe problems and mild symptoms 
  • Availability of the other parent 
  • Available as a parent during stable periods 
  • Social skills 

Protective factors in the environment: 

  • Extensive social network 
  • Contact with counselling services 
  • Positive view of society 

Protective factors for the child: 

  • Creativity 
  • A temperament well-suited to the parent 
  • Higher intelligence 
  • Social skills 
  • Drive 
  • High problem-solving ability 
  • Strong sense of understanding and insight into themselves and others 
  • Positive school experiences 
  • Strong sense of self-worth 
  • A good relationship with protective adults 
  • Positive experiences with peers 
  • Many relaxing activities 
  • Older in age 

Never make a safety and risk assessment alone. Keep in mind that your own norms, values and experiences influence the way you interpret the situation. Therefore, always discuss your conclusions with a colleague or other expert and consider the possibility of an alternative interpretation or explanation. 

Always talk to parents about the conclusions you draw with your colleagues. Be open to other explanations that contradict your interpretation. 

How do you discuss your findings with your client? 

  • Make a list of what you already know. This will clarify the things you don’t know much about yet and therefore need to ask more in-depth questions. The conversation should help you make a decision and choose the next step. 
  • Describe your concerns as concretely as possible. “I’m worried about the children” is not concrete. “The children did not get any lunches to take to school three times this week” is concrete. 
  • Formulate your concerns using facts without passing judgement. 
  • Don’t just look at the concerns and problems, but also at what is going well. Mention positive things and compliment the client on this. That is how you connect with the client. 
  • Avoid terms such as neglect or child abuse. Use neutral terms such as “I’m a little worried about your child and whether he’s feeling good about himself.” 
  • Take your time. Make sure there is time for the conversation to run over if necessary. 
  • Make sure an interpreter is present if the client does not speak the language very well. 


What is a troubling situation? 

According to the Integral Youth Assistance Decree (Belgian law) there is cause for concern if the development opportunities of a minor are at risk. 

This could be the case if a minor’s rights to provision, protection or participation are violated. But also, if the psychological, physical or sexual integrity of a minor or one or more family members is compromised. 

We will briefly explain some of the terms in this definition: 

Provision rights: the right to access certain facilities and services (e.g. healthcare, education, rest, recreation and adapted care for children with disabilities); 

Protection rights: the right to protection from harmful practices (e.g. protection from commercial or sexual exploitation and physical or mental abuse); 

Participation rights: the right to be heard in decisions that affect your life (e.g. freedom of speech and opinion, freedom of culture, religion or language).