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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

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