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Toward Safety, Permanence, And Ongoing Success

Thus far, I have focused on the new child protection paradigm and its gradual emergence. A key to understanding the emerging paradigm is holding a clear vision of child protection once the new paradigm has fully emerged. In that new reality, child protection will be standards driven, based on known best practices, and fully informed by generally accepted guiding principles defining safety, permanence, and ongoing well being for abused and neglected children.

It is important to point out the new child protection paradigm does not replace earlier paradigms. Rather, it will emerge from the earlier paradigms and incorporate their features into the new reality. For example, there will still be rules and procedures within a bureaucratically organized context. However, the rules and procedures will no longer represent the “instruction book” for practice. They will, rather, simply serve as the supporting structure for practice.

Practice itself will be outcomes driven and geared toward reliance on continuous invention and the empowerment of workers. When the new child protection paradigm fully emerges, outcomes will have transitioned to consensus based standards, continuous invention to known best practices, and empowerment to evidence delimited professional judgment. At that point, workers and child protection practices will be governed by generally accepted guiding principles and practice will be regulated by competent professional oversight.

With the above serving as the foundation of the new child protection paradigm, our understanding of what is meant by “child protection” changes. In the traditional paradigm, “child protection” primarily refers to “safety” for abused and neglected children. The point of child protection is to keep children from harm’s way. In the emerging paradigm, safety is insufficient. Workers must additionally secure permanence for abused and neglected children.

Within the context of safety, children need stable, lasting relationships and connections with adults who can and will maintain those relationships and connections throughout the child’s life. Contemporary child protection has significantly transitioned to incorporate this type of permanence for children. This is seen through an increasing emphasis on supporting and working with birth parents, placing children with relatives when they cannot remain with birth parents, and pursuing adoption when appropriate relatives are not forthcoming. The transition toward incorporating safety with permanence is also seen in the trend reducing reliance on residential and foster care for children, acknowledging that neither represents permanence.

In the new child protection paradigm, the transition from safety to permanence is understood as but a partial response to the needs and best interest of abused and neglected children. Assuredly, children must be kept safe and must have permanence secured for them. Beyond that, though, their ongoing success must be secured as well. This certainly includes their successful physical growth and development including but not limited to their physical health. It also includes their emotional growth and development, their moral growth and development, their social adjustment and growth, and their educational and intellectual growth and success.

The ongoing success of children is complex and multidimensional. Nonetheless, in the new child protection paradigm, the ongoing success of abused and neglected children will stand as a practice pillar no less than do safety and permanence. A commitment to achieving safety, permanence, and ongoing success for each child each time will represent a cardinal guiding principle for all child protection practice.

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