Parents Helping Parents

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A Brief History of Parents Helping Parents

Louise Malenfant

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)

Family Advocate, Parents Helping Parents

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

(Louise Malenfant passed away in 2006.  She is being missed.)


A Brief History of Parents Helping Parents

PHP was founded in the city of Winnipeg in 1994, with the aim of bringing reforms to the child welfare system of Manitoba. Like most people committed to social change, founder Louise Malenfant had an experience with the child welfare system that brought about her commitment to change. The original concept for PHP was that people tended to deal with their child welfare problems alone, and had no one to turn to who had experienced the system and could provide the benefit of that experience to the newcomers.

After two years of preliminary research, the family advocacy program was launched on a popular radio talk show, which had the effect of dramatically changing the mission of the organization. Following the program, our phone lines were flooded with more than 40 calls from men who claimed to be falsely accused of child abuse during divorce proceedings. Our first task was initiating the research required to identify the methods of distinguishing the difference between true and false allegations of child abuse, so that we could ensure that persons seeking our help received full and fair investigations from the child welfare system.

With a bachelor degree in sociology, the organization first initiated extensive research into the fields of social work, the law, psychology, medicine and police investigative methods, in order to provide effective advocacy support. This provided the base for a critical analysis of client files, which frequently led to new avenues of investigative activity for the cases that came to us for help.

In addition to investigative research, PHP established positive avenues of communication with the various social systems that come into contact with the family law experience. Such contacts included but were not limited to government, child welfare, police, psychologists, doctors and the governing bodies of these professions. In addition, PHP established media relations for the purpose of publicizing our work, which in turn led to a free form of advertising, and helped to establish the credibility of the organization with the public and with social institutions.

In 1994, Manitoba’s child welfare system admitted that 25% of the investigations they conducted that year arose during divorce disputes, with fewer than 15% of those allegations substantiated. In addition, Manitoba had the highest child apprehension rate of the provinces at 18 children per thousand population. Compare this to the rate of Alberta, where 5 children per thousand is the apprehension rate. By 1994, the apprehension rate and the skyrocketing rate of allegations in divorce, had created a highly antagonistic relationship between the child welfare system and the community served by it, and it was apparent to all that changes were drastically needed to bring these problems under control.

Parents Helping Parents was founded on the principal that change could be instigated by taking one case at a time, and bringing the case to a positive resolution. Rather than simply providing a critical voice in the community or political action, PHP sought to assist families in a more practical way. As a result of this more practical orientation, PHP assisted in the reunification of nearly 200 children with their families. In addition, we have cleared 64 people who claimed to be falsely accused, simply by ensuring effective investigative procedures were implemented.

Over time, we saw the system change before our eyes, and the problem of false allegations almost became non-existent in our community. The rate of high conflict divorces dropped, as lawyers and experts developed effective standards of procedure that allowed them to avoid contributing to these problems. The child welfare system of Manitoba instituted a number of policies that also saw them reduce their role in the divorce courts. Specialization of social work tasks were instituted, so that investigators became highly trained professionals less prone to making mistakes. By 2000, PHP was no longer needed as a watchdog in the province of Manitoba, as the problem of false allegations had largely disappeared from the community. This is when we received the invitation to continue the family advocacy project in Edmonton, as the family rights community expressed alarm at the ongoing and rising rate of false allegations in divorce. Parents Helping Parents arrived in Edmonton in September, 2000, with the aim of duplicating our work in the province of Alberta.

Our Methods

PHP utilizes several strategies to assist families dealing with child welfare and divorce related problems. These include:

  1. Educating parents on the process they are involved in, and also ensuring courteous communications with child welfare staff. Many people allow their anger to undermine their ability to address the problems which brought them to the attention of child welfare authorities;

  2. Provide in-person support to families for correspondence, meetings and court appearances, and provide a record making service to ensure that problems are clarified, and a strategy for addressing those problems can be defined and implemented;

  3. Ensuring clarity of the child welfare concerns, and assist in the development of a resource plan for addressing those concerns;

  4. Ensure that a full and fair investigation is conducted by child welfare and police authorities;

  5. Provide written record of communications with CFS to ensure fairness of the process;

  6. Assist in identifying alternative fostercare placement with extended family members or friends of the family in order to minimize the trauma of apprehension;

  7. Establish a reasonable visitation schedule for families;

  8. Participate in the ongoing communications required with child welfare authorities and government to initiate permanent system changes;

  9. Develop case study research that can be shared with new cases, thereby maximizing the sharing of experience from families who have succeeded in resolving their child welfare problems and reuniting families.

  10. Analyze the local community of experts to identify practitioners with effective standards of procedure. Identify effective legal support services for referrals. Communicate with local regulatory bodies for experts and lawyers to facilitate a high standard of practice in the community.

Our Mission Statement

Parents Helping Parents is committed to establishing quality of service and fairness for the community from its child welfare system. We are also committed to reducing the conflict which arises in divorce, as we believe this is detrimental to the wellbeing of children. We believe that by reducing hostility, establishing a high standard of expertise in the community, and ensuring that people are treated fairly, that we serve the purpose of reducing the stress of such conflicts. We also believe that reducing the stress of family court may serve to lessen the possibility of domestic violence arising from the conflicts of divorce. It is certainly the case that establishing a fair and effective child welfare system is beneficial to the children of our community.

Preliminary Needs Identified for Edmonton

PHP has undertaken extensive case law research for Alberta, and we have reviewed 82 case files requesting service. Of these, 18 cases meet the criteria for family advocacy support, and these cases demonstrate a variety of problems related to family law experiences.

The child welfare system of Edmonton is committed to a family support, non-interventionist system, therefore reducing unnecessary apprehensions. Investigative procedures require significant review and upgrading. It is notable, however, that there does not appear to be an ideologically-driven hostility between child welfare authorities and the community it serves, which is a very positive condition for change.

Many cases currently being assisted involve denial of visitation following divorce proceedings, which require establishing a positive relationship with community police branches to ensure the enforcement of existing court orders. Several cases involve allegations of child abuse and domestic violence in the context of divorce proceedings, which require effective investigative procedures to ensure fairness for the accused parties. Some cases involve the consultation of psychologists and doctors in the community, and ensuring effective and thorough methods of investigation are required for this type of case.

Parents Helping Parents has had several case conference meetings with the frontline of child welfare, and in addition, we have established some regularity of meetings with the Office of Chief Executive Officer of CFS Steve Brown. In addition, we have met with the College of Alberta Psychologists to discuss standards of procedure for consultants in child abuse cases, and look forward to identifying effective strategies which will raise these standards for the community, while maintaining a minimal level of conflict with the expert community.

We are very pleased to find an open and professional response to the service provided by Parents Helping Parents by both child welfare and the expert community, which bodes well for the future success of our work in Edmonton.

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Louise Malenfant is no more

Calgary, Alberta, 2006 04 03

During the past weekend Louise Malenfant passed away at her home, in Calgary, Alberta, Canada.

Posted 2001 02 13

Parents Helping Parents

Louise Malenfant

malenfant.jpg (2818 bytes)

Family Advocate, Parents Helping Parents

Calgary, Alberta, Canada

Louise Malenfant passed away in 2006.  She is being missed.


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