TruthSuggestions for Child Welfare Agency Reform.
by:Susan Orr, PhD

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  1. 1. Narrow the scope of child abuse and neglect definitions. Scholars and child-welfare experts from across the political spectrum agree that narrowing the scope of child abuse and neglect would allow CPS to focus on the most drastic cases. Much that is now defined as child abuse and neglect does not merit governmental interference.

2. Place the investigatory powers with the police. Police are trained in matters of investigation. It is the nature of child protection to be accusatory. Cloaking the investigation under social services and anonymity does nothing to hide that essential fact. The behavior that we are discussing is criminal in nature; therefore police should gather the evidence. Once the scope of what constitutes child abuse is appropriately narrow, local police would be the best government agency to conduct investigations. If the investigation suggests a crime was committed, the case would then proceed to court for adjudication.

3. Re-criminalize child abuse and neglect Having already narrowed the scope of child abuse and neglect to serious cases, what remain are cases of assault and serious neglect. That means that the standard would be the same if someone harmed a stranger’s child or her own. Now child abusers are only guaranteed punishment if they harm someone not related to themselves. Most importantly, criminal cases require public records and due process. (Related Information: Model State Legislation -Parental Due Process Act )

4. Repeal mandatory reporting laws that are in effect in all the states. Mandatory reporting laws, designed to encourage those who work with children to report incidents of maltreatment, have had two negative effects.

  • First, they encourage unnecessary reporting because professionals must report all of their suspicions under threat of prosecution. While such prosecutions are rare, one shouldn’t have to report suspicions. Reporting should be restricted to more concrete evidence of a crime.
  • Second, mandatory reporting discourages fellow citizens from taking positive neighborhood action with families in trouble. Citizens tend to consider that their responsibilities have been met when they call an anonymous hotline, because that is what the law tells them to do. Knocking on the door and offering help to a family, which is troubled, but not engaged in criminal behavior, may be the more appropriate alternative. (Related Information: Updated: Ban Mandatory Reporting)

5. Make child and family services voluntary. Having separated criminal behavior from deficient parenting, we could enable caseworkers to do what they were trained to do and what they do best, i.e., social work. Without the threat of child removal hanging over their heads, parents might more willingly accept services—such as help with parenting skills. Knowing that an agency only provides services, parents might be more receptive to receiving such help. Moreover, these services should be privatized, as private agencies with performance-based contracts tend to work more effectively than state bureaucracies.

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*Susan Orr, Ph.D.; "Child Protection at the Crossroads:
Child Abuse, Child Protection, and Recommendations for Reform";
Policy Study No. 262; October 1999;>>
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