What is the Child Reflex (Kindreflex)?
The Child Reflex is a tool with a broad scope:
- The Child Reflex encourages professionals to have a conversation with their adult clients about the subject of parenting. Parents are given the opportunity to talk freely about their children and their concerns. Where necessary, professionals can provide support to parents in their role as mothers or fathers.
- The Child Reflex helps professionals detect troubling family situations and restore safety as quickly as possible.
Why the Child Reflex?
Children’s rights, which have been set forth in the International Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), are the social framework from which we look at the position and well-being of minors in our society. Children are active participants in our society who have their own rights.
Children have the right to be protected against violence, neglect and abuse. (Art. 19) and they have the right to a good upbringing (Art. 18). A child’s best interests must always be the primary consideration in decisions and actions (Art. 3). They also have the right to their own opinions, and they need to be heard and considered (Art. 12). To be able to form their opinion properly, they have a right to be informed (Art 17). They have the right to the highest possible standard of health (Art. 24) and if they are victims of violence, abuse, sexual abuse, neglect or exploitation they have the right to receive the most appropriate assistance to promote their recovery (Art.39).
Children’s rights are a starting point in the effort to improve the position and well-being of minors. This aspiration is the Child Reflex’s starting point.
A lot of professionals work question-based these days and are reluctant to ask about children and parenting if the client does not ask for help about this himself. However, the Child Reflex strives to systematically reflect on this for the following four reasons:
Reason 1: Flanders has a lot of children that grow up with one parent or in a family that has problems, which can have a negative impact on their well-being.
A lot of children grow up in a difficult home situation or in situations where there is pressure to raise them. The risk of abuse and neglect is also found to be higher if a number of factors are present in the parents’ lives that have an impact on the children’s well-being such as: mental health problems, addiction, their own negative childhood experiences, high levels of stress, financial problems, domestic violence, …
International research shows that 10-15% of children grow up in high-risk situations and 3% experience severe forms of child abuse that require specialised help.
In terms of mental health problems, there are an estimated 378,000 KOPP [COPMI] children [Children of Parents with a Mental Illness] in Flanders on an annual basis. These are children who grow up with a parent with mental health problems or substance abuse problems. This estimate is probably an underestimate, as many parents do not recognize their mental health problem. Research shows that growing up in a parent with a mental health problem can have devastating effects on a child’s development, behaviour and perceptions (Hosman et al., 2009).
At least one-third of KOPP [COPMI] children later develop a serious and long-term mental health problem themselves. A third of them experience problems of a more temporary nature. Other figures show that KOPP [COPMI] children are 5 times more likely to come into contact with mental health services than other children. This is partly because mental health problems have a major impact on how the parents raise their children. (Bifulco et al.2002; De Dekker et al., 2014; Elgar et al., 2007; Harnish et al., 1995; Murray et al., 2003; Van der Maas, 2010):
Common parenting problems among parents with mental health problems
- Not responding or reacting tensely
- Being extremely critical or hostile
- Adopting a chaotic, unpredictable parenting style
- Having difficulties managing the household
- Having limited parenting knowledge and skills
- Having difficulties in taking parenting responsibilities seriously
- Failure to perform administrative tasks
Reason 2: Clients with children do not always feel as adequately supported in their role as parent, they are sometimes worried and they have questions.
A lot of parents are at times concerned about their child’s upbringing or development. Little questions and parenting-related concerns are normal. They happen to every parent at every age. There are more parents with questions and concerns about parenting than parents without questions and concerns.
Some global figures:
- 1 in 5 parents find raising children emotionally exhausting
- 1 in 4 Parents find raising children physically exhausting
- 94% think they are capable of taking care of their children
- 1 in 3 find parenthood harder than expected
- 1 in 4 say they are sometimes not able to control their child
- 6.5% often feel they cannot handle parenting
4 major themes that people worry about:
- The approach to parenting and parenting in general
- Dealing with their children’s difficult behaviour
- The child’s social emotional problems
Parents above all expect to meet someone that they can trust and that will listen to them. Only secondly do they expect advice and help with their problem.
DWVG, Family Survey 2016; Families in Flanders on child behaviour and parenting behaviour and the strengths and possible difficulties involved (Bastaits, K., Van Leeuwen, K. & Travers, N.)
A recent Dutch study conducted on children growing up with parents with mental health or dependency problems and their parents shows that:
- 73% of the parents are worried about their children’s development because of their problems
- 63% of the children are worried about their own development
- 58% of the parents feel that their children are not given enough attention during their treatment in the mental health care system
- 72% of parents want their children to receive more direct attentionThese results show that it is important to talk to clients about their children and about being a parent.
Mood and Resilience Offspring (MARIO) project (2016-2017) VUmc Amsterdam and Erasmus Medical Center Rotterdam.
Reason 3: Child abuse has far-reaching consequences on children's health and well-being.
Child abuse has far-reaching consequences on both health and well-being in both childhood and adulthood.
Physical consequences range from bruises and abrasions, to fractures and lack of hygiene, to sexually transmitted diseases, pregnancy, disability, etc. In extreme cases, the child could die from the physical consequences.
In addition, child abuse inhibits development and can lead to neurological problems and growth disorders.
On an emotional level, child abuse damages the child’s trust in the outside world, which disrupts their social interaction with others. Distrust and relationship problems are common. The children often blames themselves for the abusive parent’s behaviour, creating a distorted, negative image of themselves and damaged self-esteem.
The stress associated with the abuse also leads to an overactive stress system and all kinds of psychological problems such as mood disorders, anxiety disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, trouble sleeping, etc.
Child abuse also has major consequences on health and well-being in adulthood. Traumatic and far-reaching childhood experiences largely determine an adult’s later health and well-being. They lead to a greatly increased risk of serious and lifelong mental and physical effects and represent a major health cost to society.
In this video dr. Nadine Burke Harris explains how childhood trauma affects psychological en physical health in later adulthood.
Reason 4: Concerns are usually detected by caregivers who come into contact with the children themselves.
Half of the reports are from professionals who come into contact with children. Concern is almost never detected by professionals who only come into contact with the parents, which is a missed opportunity. A lot of children who grow up in a troubled family situation but do not come into contact with a professional, remain out of sight this way.
In the Netherlands, professionals working with adult clients have been obligated to perform a Child Check since 2013. This means that during treatment, they check whether a client is taking care of minor children and whether the children can grow up safely.
Research shows that thanks to the introduction of the Kindcheck [Child Check], children who are in a troubled family situation are identified at an early stage, which makes it possible to call in help at an early stage. The introduction of the Kind check [Child Check] in the emergency department of five hospitals in the Netherlands led to 60 times more reports of child abuse from the emergency department. The majority of the reports (91%) later turned out to be justified and three quarters of the reported children were not previously known to Veilig Thuis (the Netherlands’ advice and reporting centre for domestic violence and child abuse).
Who is the Child Reflex for?
Counselors working with adult clients
The Kindreflex is primarily intended for counsellors working with adult clients. Through their adult client, counsellors can anticipate children’s well-being. They identify and remedy troubling situations without seeing the children themselves.
Supported by a professional network
A counsellor does not have to go through the entire step-by-step plan alone. Each counsellor has their own responsibilities and competences, but they do not have to take any steps in which they have no expertise. However, we do expect every counsellor to have the knowledge to take the first 2 steps of the Kindreflex. The 4 next steps can be a shared responsibility within a facility or a broader network.