“Basically, I look at it like combat”: Reflections on moral injury by parents involved with child protection services

Wendy Haight, Erin Sugrue, Molly Calhoun, James Black

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


This study considers any “moral injury” occurring among parents involved with the Child Protection System (CPS). Moral injury refers to the lasting psychological, spiritual and social harm caused by one's own or another's actions in a high stakes situation that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. The existing literature focuses on military contexts, but moral injury also may play a role in increasing the vulnerability of CPS clients who are threatened with loss of their parental rights and dissolution of their families. We administered a modified version of the Moral Injury Events Scale (MIES) (Nash et al., 2013) to 10 CPS involved parents. We then conducted in-depth, semi-structured, audio recorded individual interviews with parents to elaborate their responses to the MIES. Parents’ MIES scores and interview elaborations suggest that some CPS-involved parents do experience moral injury. Moral injury was reported as a result of their own parenting behaviors, but also as a result of parents’ involvement with professionals and within social systems that are charged with providing assistance to struggling families. For instance, some parents perceived professionals to be shaming, social services to be harmful and legal proceedings stigmatizing. Parents’ reported reactions to morally injurious events included lasting feelings of guilt, shame and anger; and loss of trust in professionals. These responses impeded their perceived abilities to fully engage in services. If involvement in CPS places parents at increased risk of moral injury, then moral injury is a critically important construct for child welfare policy makers and workers to understand and address in the conduct of effective, ethical child welfare practice.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)477-489
Number of pages13
JournalChildren and Youth Services Review
StatePublished - Nov 2017


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