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Can We Accept Business As Usual?

Can child protection be reformed using the same paradigm through witch it came to be as it is today? Let’s briefly think about the processes and forces that have culminated in child protection as we know it. People, groups, and organizations have, for decades, been concerned about the well being of children in general and abused and neglected children in particular. Although there have been many initiatives through various private and charitable entities, the primary thrust for protection of abused and neglected children has been through public, governmental action. Contemporary child protection is, for the most part, a product of state and federal legislation. The legislation has assuredly been prompted by non-governmental sources such as the print and broadcast media, professional organizations concerned about children, religious and other charitable organizations, and private citizens. Nonetheless, the events that most specifically resulted in the complex aggregation of programs and services we refer to as child protection have been legislative.

Over time, the legislative activities have followed two separate and not necessarily compatible tracks. The primary track has developed public policy related to the protection of abused and neglected children. Involved here have been the establishment of funding sources and associated programs and services intended to keep vulnerable children from harm’s way and to assure their safety and well being. This effort does not reflect a comprehensive, integrated strategy at the federal, state, or local levels. Rather, it reflects a sincere effort to ameliorate identified conditions, circumstances, and situations known to be associated with the maltreatment of children along with establishing resources thought to increase the likelihood children will grow and progress safely and successfully.

It is important to see the development of public policy and the provision of supporting resources have not been continuously evolving processes building systematically on themselves. Policy and resource development have instead happened unevenly and asynchronously over many years. Further, this uneven, asynchronous development has varied significantly from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, from locality to locality. The result is a complex and frequently confusing aggregation of programs and services, lines of responsibility and authority, rules and procedures, organizational structures and funding at the federal, state, and local levels. The resulting legislative montage has coherence only in so far as its elements and components are collectively more or less related to child protection. This characterization is not a criticism. It is rather merely an expected outcome of an extended political and legislative process. It is government making its best effort to care about and for vulnerable children.

Child protection works for most abused and neglected children most of the time. Unfortunately, it frequently does not work for many children. They are not kept safe and their well being is not assured. This reality prompts a secondary legislative track. Legislators and government officials attempt to correct perceived weaknesses and inadequacies in the child protection montage through additional legislation and rule making. They use the same process used to create the montage as they attempt to correct its deficits and incapacities. As was true for the primary development process, the secondary corrective process is uneven and asynchronous, varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, from locality to locality. More significantly, it is nearly exclusively reactive. The corrective activity is mostly prompted by tragic events such as the serious injury or death of a child. These reactive efforts sometimes improve outcomes for children but usually do not. Instead they most typically do little more than add additional rules and restrictions to the work of child protection and increase the complexity and difficulty in managing child protection activities.

Real child protection reform requires a reconsideration of the montage itself and a Concurrent reconsideration of the processes we use to affect change in how we go about assuring safety and well being for abused and neglected children. The legislative, rule-making process demonstratively does not work. We hope it does but the next tragedy involving a child repeatedly makes it clear it does not. Reforming child protection requires an alternative paradigm, a better alternative to business as usual in child protection.

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. || and visit