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April 2006Vol. 7, No. 3Coping With Parental Loss Due to Termination of Parental Rights

Children and adolescents who lose their parents because of a termination of parental rights (TPR) may respond with a variety of coping strategies, some of which may not promote good mental health. Despite their parents' maltreatment, these children often grieve the parental loss and may need specific help in developing coping strategies that help them heal and move forward.

To study coping strategies, researchers interviewed 60 children and adolescents, ages 9–18, who had been removed from their parents because of abuse or neglect. After an average of eight placements in foster care, these children had been placed in residential treatment because of moderate to severe emotional difficulties.

The researchers found that the children tended to use avoidant coping strategies the most, followed by emotion-focused coping strategies and problem-focused coping strategies. Only emotion-focused coping strategies, which involved focusing on feelings by expressing them, were associated with greater psychological symptomatology.

Mental health practitioners who treat children grieving the loss of their parents due to TPR may want to shift their focus away from the expression of emotions to a more concrete focus that includes:

  • Answering children's questions about the situation
  • Helping the children develop problem-solving skills
  • Working toward increasing self-esteem
  • Developing the children's interpersonal skills
  • Increasing the children's social network

This study, "Coping with Parental Loss Because of Termination of Parental Rights," by K. M. Schneider and V. Phares, was published in the November/December 2005 issue of Child Welfare. (PDF - 1,096 KB)