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A Unique Support Network For Each Child

Thus far, I have explored the transition of the child protection paradigm from its traditional foundation. At the traditional level, child protection is rules and procedure driven, emphasizing its reliance on a perceived, well established bureaucratic reality intended to govern and regulate its functioning. From this spurious perspective, child protection is nearly exclusively focused on safety for abused and neglected children, on keeping children from harm’s way. This important goal is then pursued through child protection practice that is staff and program centered, providing prescribed services arrays intended to increase child safety. Children receive those predetermined services and resources believed by the bureaucracy to best serve their interests. Child protection operates locally within an identifiable agency and that agency is itself at the center of the helping circle into which children are brought for protective services.

At the intermediate level of the transitioning paradigm, focus shifts from the agency to the community. Within that broader context, child protection is judged in terms of pre-determined outcomes in addition to rules and procedures compliance. There is increased reliance on the continuous inventiveness of workers who function with expanded empowerment and flexibility. Services delivery is less programmatic and staff dependent. Permanence is added to safety as a core goal and the child’s family becomes the primary locus of interest. Child protection is additionally judged in terms of the adequacy of community supports and resources and the effectiveness of interagency cooperation and collaboration.

At the advanced level, the paradigm shifts to reliance on standards, best practice approaches, and the professional judgments of child protection workers. The ongoing success of the child stands as a third practice pillar, along with safety and permanence. This emphasis on success expands to incorporate the family and its integration into the community and its array of services and resources for all families and children within the community. At this level, each child and, in turn, each family develops an individualized support network including resources, services, and opportunities flowing from public, private, community, family, and neighborhood sources that continuously adjust and accommodate to the immediate situations and circumstances of each child and family. Establishing, supporting, and maintaining this support network is the ongoing focus of legislative and administrative efforts to assure the safety, permanence, and ongoing success of each child, including those who have been abused or neglected.

From the support network perspective, Children who have experienced abuse and neglect should not be viewed differently than children who experience other situations or circumstances that jeopardize their safety, permanence, and ongoing success. Included here are children who are not succeeding in school, children who are not succeeding in the community due to behavior and adjustment issues, children who are not succeeding due to illness or physical disability, children who are not succeeding due to psychological or developmental issues, and on and on. Significant numbers of our children experience critical life jeopardy for multiple and complex reasons. To treat those who have been abused or neglected as a different class of people is wrong. Further, to treat their families as a different class of people is similarly wrong. Our approach should not vary based on the nature of the specific jeopardy. We should be sure the child is receiving the supports and services he (or she) needs to succeed.

This starts with the child’s immediate family, with his parents. Our intervention then expands out to include the extended family, the child’s neighborhood and local community, and so on. The intervention moves out far enough but only as far as necessary to assure the child’s success. We build the exact support network needed by the specific child to best serve him and his interests. How to do this can be neither legislatively nor administratively mandated. Rather, it simply emphasizes the need for identified standards and best practice methods reliant on sound professional judgment and informed by consensus based guiding principles for work with children in general and with abused and neglected children in particular. Re-forming child protection must proceed with an understanding of those guiding principles as we shift our perspective to incorporate a clear vision of child protection practice from the perspective of the unique support network essential for the ongoing success of the children for whom we are responsible.

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