Child protective services is an integral piece of the puzzle of today’s healthy society. In recent times, a concerned eye has been turned to the way policies and practices are used in areas of child protection and in the treatment and support of the families and child’s welfare. The lack of support for the families involved in child abuse from child protective services takes away from the intended effectiveness of the program. This lack of support would be easily rebuilt if a holistic approach for treating the complete abuse and neglect situation were implemented. The absence of government funding has plundered any efforts to turn this desperate situation around. This leads me to a conclusion that child protective services is in dire need of reform. Some of possible avenues of improving this nation’s child welfare system are increasing the allocated annual funding amount from the federal government to provide more sufficient wages and to enabling the hiring of more qualified social workers. Also, incorporating a holistic approach, including more community-based programs to combat the growing number of cases of child abuse neglect in the United States would be advantageous.
Child protective services is a complex system of assessments, investigations and conclusions. A simple understandable overview of these services comes from a United States Department of Health and Human Services manual discussing child protection services: Child Protective Services (CPS) is the central agency in each community’s child abuse and neglect service delivery system; it is responsible for ensuring that preventive, investigative and treatment services are available to children and families endangered by child abuse and neglect. As a result, child protective workers must perform a variety of functions when responding to situations of child maltreatment and, such as, play a variety of roles throughout their involvement with child protective clients. Reporting a suspected case of child maltreatment to the local child protective service agency (or a family member’s own request for help with the problem) initiates the CPS response process. Once the intake and investigative processes and the initial assessment and service planning processes are completed, the stage is set for implementation of ongoing services. (1)
This description of the process of child protective services (For the remainder of the paper child protective services will be referred to as CPS) sounds acceptable and workable. However, an increasing number of child abuse and neglect cases have presented themselves in recent years (Waldfogel). As Jane Waldfogel writer for Child Welfare, points out, “About three million children were reported to the CPS in 1997, a more than fourfold increase over the number reported just 20 years earlier.” In our society today, with increased violence and agitation the number has risen dramatically again. As Bagley and Mallick, renowned social psychologists and intellects, point out to support this theory, “Caseloads of child protection workers increased dramatically in response to widespread concerns about CSA (child sexual abuse)” (30). In consensus with Bagley and Mallick, a U.S. Newswire via Comtex states that, “The number of children coming into the child welfare system remain at unacceptably high levels because of substance abuse, poverty, joblessness, housing, and other social problems.” This increasingly high number of reports turning into caseloads for social workers has combated the effectiveness of the above CPS process. The high number of caseloads per social worker ratio is driving down the original intended purpose of CPS. A reform to the initial program is in order to accommodate the new dilemmas. As Jane Waldfogel agrees, “Children at risk are not being adequately protected, and they and their families are not receiving the services that they need.” She goes on to discuss a meeting of the National Association of Public Child Welfare Administration in 1988. During this meeting, child welfare professionals concurred that the CPS system needed immense change. Two avenues that were presented were, “An expanded voluntary/preventive family support system, and an adequately funded child well-being system” (Waldfogel).
The services that are in need more often than not get overlooked and not accomplished. For example, here is a fictitious scenario of the more and more prevalent situations occurring daily in CPS. A report has been issued by someone outside or inside the family and an investigation ensues. The social worker put on the case has his or her hands already completely tied with an overload of cases as proved prior in this paper. Even though the CPS has a system to supposedly prevent this from occurring called the specialization of roles, the outcome seems to still be non-productive (United States 2). The specialization of roles is a breakdown of duties with in a CPS agency where a social worker will only be assigned one duty such as investigating, case managing or ongoing services. This separation or specialization of roles is supposed to, “improve the quality of service provided, increase job satisfaction, and reduce worker burnout” (United States 2). This specialization of role technique has failed because of a system growing out of its boundaries. To continue, the caseworker of a CPS agency is responsible to respond to all allegations. If upon investigation, there is evidence of abuse and neglect the case gets registered and remains open for long or longer-term CPS care. If upon investigation, there is not enough evidence towards accepting the case or the evidence is not entirely grotesque or obvious, the child’s report of abuse and neglect will be tossed aside and disposed of.
A big reason on why these seemingly less aggressive case accusations get disposed of or overlooked is because the child welfare system is overloaded.
As L. Davies, et al. authors for Social Work Education, points out, “In the sphere of the formal child welfare system, attention is increasingly focused on assessing only the most extreme and obvious cases of abuse and neglect to ensure the protection of children at greatest risk” (623 – 624). Formal child welfare, in more recent times, has become more narrowed in its’ approach to child protection from the reason that was discussed earlier in this paper, an influx of child abuse and neglect accusations. This higher caseload situation is then compounded with reduced resources and a lack of support for both families and workers (Davies, et al. 623). This cycle is seemingly vicious and detrimental to the children and families involved, as can be envisioned.
To reinforce the above statements, Jane Waldfogel cites a study by Kamerman and Kahn concluding that, “the states were so overwhelmed by their child protective responsibilities that they were unable to provide either quality child protection or child welfare services.” Another reason accusations of child abuse and neglect are seemingly more and more dismissed, other than the fact of high caseload average is “the often inexperienced front-line workers” (Davies, et al. 624). This inexperience is also compounded with a “near total disappearance of supervision and support” (624). These two factors feed off each other to each detriment and both gnaw on the lack of resources. Again, it is this vicious no-end cycle.
To keep in discussion with the above, social workers can also flat out ignore accusations of child abuse and neglect. As discussed by Bagley and Mallick, “Another way for social workers to cope is to ignore many referrals, only accepting those which fit perceptions of what is an important or deserving case. In the U.S. today some 40 per cent of allegations of child sexual abuse made to social workers are not investigated further” (31).
These selections of the most grotesque cases should not be the way CPS operates. Reform for this selection problem needs to be solved from the beginning, the government allocation situation. The increase in funding would in turn provide more social workers, more training for the social workers, and better and more community-based services that would unify the child welfare system. These changes, beginning with more government money would provide for a smoother running productive CPS machine.
To concur with the issues at hand facing CPS from the above paragraphs some of the same troubling issues arose at a council of intellectuals with knowledge and experience in the child welfare system. They came to discuss issues about CPS and how it is in need of reform. This council of intellects was called the Executive Session on Child Protective Services and convened at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in 1994 (Waldfogel). One of the observations that was made that correlates with CPS social workers overlooking cases is overinclusion. This means that, “Some families that are currently in the system should not be. Inappropriately included lower-risk families receive an unnecessary adversarial response from the child welfare system, while children who are at serious risk get less attention than they deserve and are therefore not adequately protected” (Waldfogel). Another observation that goes hand in hand with overinclusion is underinclusion. This simply means that some families that should receive CPS don’t. “These include some families that are missed by reporters, some that are known to reporters but are not referred for help (or that would accept help on a voluntary basis) but do not receive help because they have not yet crossed the line into serious abuse and neglect” (Waldfogel). Another conclusion that was agreed upon was the problem of capacity. The number of cases has far outgrown the capacity of CPS social workers to serve them appropriately. This is apparently not a new problem but, “an increasingly severe one.” “The number of child abuse and neglect reports has grown tremendously over the past 20 years; the reported cases also have become tougher” (Waldfogel). Yet, another conclusion of CPS issues by the Executive Session is one of service delivery. This means that families and the children involved are not getting the right type of service in a timely manner. “Service delivery tends to be uneven across communities.” As well as, “Families often have multiple and overlapping problems, but services for them tend to be fragmented and delivered in separate locations by different professionals” (Waldfogel). This problem reinforces the suggestion of creating a more holistic approach to CPS by incorporating more and better community-based programs to better completely serve the families and the children involved in abuse and neglect cases. One final conclusion the board of CPS professionals came up with is the issue of service orientation. “The basic orientation of the CPS system may not be right for some families in the system. CPS’ dual mandate-to protect children and to preserve families-has led to tensions within the system about which goal is and should be preeminent. CPS has had trouble finding the right balance between these competing goals, and has tended to adopt a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach, which ill serves families whose needs may vary and change over time” (Waldfogel). This too reinforces the notion that a more holistic approach is needed to ‘rebalance’ the CPS system and to curb the increasing number of child abuse and neglect cases.
From what was discussed above, the CPS system is in dire need of more community-based systems. As Waldfogel points out, “Instead of CPS acting alone to address problems of child protection, CPS would develop partnerships with a broad range of community agencies, such as police, schools, and public and private agencies, and informal sources of help, such as neighborhood associations, congregations, and families themselves.” This idea of integrating many sources to provide a complete holistic treatment plan seems to be the most proactive avenue. Jane Waldfogel goes on to say that the way to incorporate these systems depends on the, “seriousness of the family’s case, the need for authoritative state intervention to protect the children, and the need for other types of interventions to protect the children and promote their well-being.”
Community support can alleviate many stressors on families and improve the waning formal child protective services. An example of a community-based program that is currently running and promoting excellent services to families and children is the Albany Teen Center (Davies et al. 626). This center offers a large selection of services including “a school program, a nursery, health promotion including a nurse on staff, individual counseling, discussion and support groups, housing assistance, collective meal preparation, clothing and equipment exchange, emergency supplies of food, formula, diapers, bus tickets as well as respite childcare” (626). This center is an exceptional but tangible example of other avenues to incorporate into the CPS realm of support. All of the above services are carried out in a loving nurturing environment with practical assistance compliant to the families and children’s needs. The staff members do not appear as professional as CPS social workers but are all very qualified having many years experience and expertise in social service issues. This appearance also benefits the relationship between the client and the employee by bridging the gap and yearning for a more family atmosphere.
Another great aspect of this center is that it is voluntary. The families or mothers, and their children are not required by law to seek help there so by going on their own volition, the Albany Teen Center has a high success rate of reestablished healthy families.
The Albany Teen Center is a key unifying institution that helps to balance child protective services and the social workers case loads. When the need arises to contact CPS because of an abuse and neglect issue, it happens in an already established positive atmosphere that has trust between the client and employee. As one Albany Teen Center staff member illustrates:
One of the advantages we have over CAS (Children’s Aid Society) is that people are in their natural humor when they come here; they are relaxed and comfortable, and they get into groups that talk about relationships issues; they get into the nursery and we see them interact with their kids. And once they come in more regularly and feel comfortable, they establish relationships and talk about stuff. (627).
The Children’s Aid Society is the formal CPS facility in that area and the two work productively hand-in-hand. As one Albany staff member reiterates, “We do the documentation for CAS. […] But we also offer a lot here. […] There are things that bind us together with CAS and these families” (629). Saying that, the Albany Teen Center plays an important role in the system of child protection.
A disturbing issue that seems to be the number one deterrent on why CPS is not propelling forward out of the black hole that it is in is the lack of federal money. The lack of federal funds is also why community-based programs have a hard time prospering and growing. As Mark E. Courtney, Ph.D. and an affiliate at the Institute for Research on Poverty at the University of Wisconsin, states that, “Federal funding for child protection investigations, prevention programs, and treatment services is more limited, and expenditures have not risen apace with reports of maltreatment” (88). This sad but true story depicts the broken cycle of the federal government’s budget allocation system. This broken cycle also reflects the government’s unwillingness to care for the nations population and their welfare. For example, in fiscal year 2002, the total federal government budget allocation for child welfare services which encompasses community-based centers, education, training, and administration expenses was 75, 571 million dollars (United States, 2004 325). Relatively speaking, the military budget for the year 2002 according to Howard Zinn, a renowned historian and social activist, was 300 to 400 billion dollars (682). To help put into perspective how much money this really is, Howard Zinn goes on to say, “It was estimated by the World Health Organization that a small portion of the American military budget, if given to the treatment of tuberculosis in the world, could save millions of lives” (682). A portion of that money could also save millions of abused and neglected children’s lives as well. Obviously, there needs to be some fundamental changes in how our federal government perceives the value of lives for anything to radically shift in a positive direction. As a U.S., Newswire points out, “As we ensure security in our homeland, we must also ensure that our homes and communities are safe from abuse and neglect” (Comtex). This comment is absolutely agreeable and if complied with, changes in the future will occur and the downward spiral of CPS will end.
The horror stories of children falling through the cracks because of a lack of support and cooperative functioning between CPS and community-based programs as well as the lack of federal government money are common . The stories of these kids are phenomenally terrifying. For example, a boy named David. David was 22 months old. “He weighed 13 pounds, 4 ounces and when found, he was covered with bruises, had months-old fractures and at least 22 bite marks.” (Miller, et al.). He died on February 21, 2000.
“Natalie Gomez-Perez, 2, of Kissimmee, Florida was beaten by her mother’s boyfriend, her spleen ‘hit so hard that blood was forced out’” (Miller, et al.).
Tony Bragg Jr., just 9 months old, died of a blow that tore his heart. His father threw him into a utility closet and left him to die” (Miller, et al.).
These cases, though severe are not rare by any means. These are simply the effects of, “bureaucratic failure” (Miller, et al.). The United States of America is one nation under god, indivisible, under liberty and has justice for all. Those words are said in institutions all over the United States with confidence and truthfulness. That phrase, under liberty and justice for all, is it true? From research and history, the truthfulness of liberty and justice seem to be waning. Child protective services is a wonderful system and it dueled up with community-based programs is a double success. However, the only feasible way to incorporate the two are by money. The largest company in America with money is the federal government and the budget allocation for the child welfare system as far as Washington is concerned, is minimal to the child welfare systems reported needs.
The only way I can foresee to change this monumental problem is to get the word out. People need to be aware of this situation so the federal government will become aware of this problem. The child protective services will ultimately implode and be wiped out if financial help is not applied.
The only true factor holding productive reform work up is money. Money is the key to child protective services and community-based programs uniting. Money is the only element holding back the hiring of more social workers that are qualified. Money is the single deterrent to why there is a huge problem in overloaded caseworkers. Child protective services needs financial aid to be able to spread the work load amongst numerous employees to resist further negative reports of abuse and neglect and to climb out of this black hole they’ve been put in by the federal government. It is a tragedy that the United States government refuses to acknowledge this problem and continues the practice of turning the other cheek.
To comply with what was stated above, the purpose of this essay was to get the word out to the population and hopefully sooner than later, get the attention of the United States federal government.
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