CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES REFORM
Child Protective Services (CPS) is a complex system of assessments, investigations, and conclusions. CPS is the central agency in each communities child abuse and neglect service system. It is responsible for ensuring that preventative, investigative, and treatment services are available to children and families endangered by child abuse and neglect. As a result, CPS workers must perform a variety of functions when responding to situations of child maltreatment and play a variety of roles throughout their involvement with child protective clients. Reporting a suspective case of child maltreatment to the local CPS agency (or a family member’s own request for help with the problem) initiates the CPS response process. Once the intake is completed, an investigative process is done, and then the initial assessments and services planning processes are completed. Then the stage is set for implementation of ongoing services(Schene)(1). This description of the process of child protective services sounds acceptable and workable. However, an increasing number of child abuse and neglect cases have presented themselves in recent years. According to Jane Waldfogel, a writer for Child Welfare, about three million children were reported to the CPS in 1997, a more than fourfold increase over the number reported just 20 years earlier. In our society today, with increased violence and agitation the number has risen dramatically again. SHE ALSO
stated that caseloads of child protection workers increased dramatically in response to widespread concerns about CSA (child sexual abuse)(Waldfogel)(2). The number of children coming into the child welfare system remain at unacceptably high levels because of substance abuse, poverty, joblessness, housing, and other social problems. This increasingly high number of reports turning into caseloads for social workers has combated the effectiveness of the above CPS process. The average social worker handles approximately 135 cases. The high number of caseloads per social worker ratio is driving down the original intended purpose of CPS. There is also the issue regarding gaps of protection for the children. Twenty-five to fifty percent of deaths from child abuse involve children who were previously reported to authorities for suspected maltreatment. Tens of thousands of other children suffer serious injuries while under the supervision of CPS (Besharov)(3). At the same time, overreaction to complaints of abuse plagues the system. Children have been removed from parental custody and placed in foster care for weeks and months based on the most cursory investigations. Sometimes the children were removed on the basis of unvalidated complaints. Many courts have begun to find that when CPS employees fail to do their jobs well, the agencies and the employees may be liable for resulting injuries. There have been some setbacks though. For example, in 1989, the U.S. Supreme Court held that the failure to protect a child who had been reported to CPS as in danger and who was under the agency’s supervision through home visitation, was not an actionable claim under
sec. 1983 of the Federal Civil Rights Act. The case was DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services(Trial)(4). This history of foster care as child protection is quite recent, expanding into it modern core components as a result of a law passed by Congress in 1961. As the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform (NCCPR)(5) points out in a Child Welfare Timeline on their website (www.nccpr.org), the tension between placing children out of the home and preserving and restoring the family has proven to be the decisive struggle in child protection. As a result of decisions made during the Presidencies of Reagan and the senior Bush, undermining of support for family preservation and strengthening of incentives for foster care placement effectively reversed the trend. The...
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