As I suggested above, the child protection system is little more than a convenient myth. What we refer to as a system is merely an aggregation of more or less disparate elements or entities with related purposes or functions. The single factor causing the aggregation to be considered as a whole is the desire to keep abused and neglected children out of harms way. If we think of this outcome as child protections mission, our focus shifts from whether the system is broken to whether children are being kept safe.
With this shifted focus in mind, the questions needing asked and answered change. Instead of asking if the system is broken and whose fault is that, we must ask if children are being kept safe and, if not, why. Answering the first part of this question is easy. Yes, most children are being kept safe but many are not. Knowing why many children are not kept from harms way and determining what to do to correct that deficit is the challenge.
Children have needs, problems, and vulnerabilities that jeopardize their well-being. Unlike adults, though, children do not have the knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources to proactively manage this jeopardy. They cannot personally assure their needs are met, their problems are appropriately resolved, and they are adequately protected from the myriad of conditions and circumstances to which they are vulnerable. Public child protection agencies provide services and resources to meet the individual needs of children and to resolve their unique problems. Those agencies are intended to compensate for the special vulnerabilities of children by standing as a guardian in harms way.
Fundamentally, parents are each childs first and most important resource. They meet their childrens needs, help with their problems, and keep them safe. Child protection agencies are intended to supplement and increase the ability of parents to manage their childrens age-related jeopardy. For children, their parents are their primary guardians. Child protection agencies are secondary and have only a supporting role.
For most parents, their guardianship is adequate and very successful. Their childrens needs are met, their problems are resolved, and they avoid the harms and dangers to which they are vulnerable. It takes competent parents to protect a child and for most children, the strength is there for them.
Unfortunately, the strength is not there for many other children. The reasons are varied and complex but in every case, the parents have failed to meet their childrens needs, to resolve their problems, to keep them safe. They have not succeeded in meeting their obligations to their children.
We now see why many children are not kept safe. Their parents are failing in their responsibility to keep their children from harms way. Additionally, if a child protection agency is aware of the possible parent failure and does not prevent further harm to the child, the agency fails in its secondary guardianship responsibility. This perspective lets us more clearly define the challenge. The outcome of child protection reform is to increase the frequency with which child protection agencies become aware of potentially significant parent failure. Given that increased awareness, the challenge is to increase the extent to which the agencies are able to successfully predict recurrence of parent failure and effectively prevent that recurrence. The standard is assuring safety and continuing well being for each child, each time. Although the standard is met for most children for whom child protection agencies become responsible, it is not met for many others. Why and what to do about it is both the challenge and point to reforming child protection.
Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@garygripes.com || and visit www.garygripes.com.