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Innovation And Evolution:

In the heat
of today’s crisis and this year’s reform, it is easy to lose the perspective
that child protection was, in the past, itself an adaptive change. The public
value that defines parental abuse and neglect of children as an appropriate
concern of government is even more recent. Considering only the last thirty
years or so, the evolution of at least four distinct, technical innovations
designed to increase child safety is evident.

In the late
sixties and early seventies, foster care was touted as the better approach to
child protection. Whereas orphanages and children’s homes had previously been
the better solution, foster care became the new reform. It would provide
families for children who could not remain safely with their parents or who may
have had no parents. Providing children families was a better technical
solution than orphanages.

Note that, despite the change, separating
children from their parents continued as the preferred technical approach to
keeping children safe. By the mid to late seventies, there were over 500,000
children in foster care in the United
. The better approach was a singular
success, but there were unexpected problems.

Although children were shifted into family settings,
they did not necessarily have safe, stable families. Children who would not or
could not adjust to the expectations of a specific family were summarily moved
to another family. The foster care drift phenomenon began. There was a crisis
in child protection.

In the eighties, permanence was embraced as
the new, better, technical approach to keeping children safe. If clear
procedures were implemented to either keep children safely in their parents’
homes or alternatively, in adoptive homes, the crisis would be over. The
outcome of either alternative would be that children would have permanent,
loving families.

Note the shift in public policy over time
from valuing orphanages to valuing families, from valuing families to valuing
permanent, loving families. The public’s polestar value for child protection is
child safety. It is now clear that child safety is most highly valued in the
context of permanent, loving families, although the public does not clearly
articulate this context.

In the late eighties and into the nineties,
the new, better technical approach became intensive in-home services. Since
merely leaving abused and neglected children with their families was not
acceptable and adoption turned out not to be a viable solution for far too many
children, intensive in-home services would keep children safe.

At the same time, the presumed causes of
child abuse and neglect were reframed. It was no longer correct to see abusive
and neglectful parents as bad people who were hurting their innocent children. Rather,
they were redefined as good, loving people who, due to stress and other
socioeconomic pressures, were in crisis. The maltreatment of their children was
an unintentional side effect of that crisis. Providing intensive in-home
services would reduce the stress and pressure, while stabilizing the crisis.
Again, though, there were problems and child protection itself was once more in
a crisis.

Note the dramatic shift here in public policy
from reflexively removing abused and neglected children from their parents to
keeping children safe in their homes, whenever possible. It was no longer
necessary for parents to prove their fitness to keep their children safe.
Rather, child protection agencies had to prove that they had made reasonable
efforts to help the parents keep their children safe. This is where the
responsibility for the safety of children in their homes shifted from being the
exclusive responsibility of parents to being a shared responsibility with

Since the intensive in-home services movement
was primarily a technical solution and there were woefully inadequate
organizational capacities and technical expertise to effectively deliver the
services, numerous and widespread examples of failure followed. Since the
movement likewise required massive adaptive change throughout the Children’s
Safety Net and since adaptive change was neither understood nor envisioned,
there was failure after failure. Children were seriously injured or killed by
parents who either did not respond to intensive in-home services or who did not
receive any services at all.

Note the accumulating crises in child
protection. In the late fifties and early sixties, orphanages and children’s
homes were the focus of media attention and public outrage. They were
characterized as over-crowded, unsafe places for children, and as a disgrace to
everyone. They were arguably no better than the abusive and neglectful homes
the children came from and perhaps even worse for many children. A crisis in
child protection was at hand.

As discussed earlier, foster care was the
next, better solution. Again, the media and the public were outraged to learn
that children were being abused and neglected in foster care. What’s more,
foster homes were characterized as unfit environments for children, were
frequently over-crowded, and were viewed by the public as merely a financial
vehicle for unscrupulous people to use children to make a profit at the
taxpayers’ expense. There was and continues to be a crisis in foster care and
thus a crisis in child protection.

With the advent of reasonable efforts and
intensive in-home services came an additional crisis. Children were being left
in unsafe homes, were being hurt by their parents, and it was the child
protection system’s fault. Conversely, family advocates argued that child
protection agencies were far too quick to remove children from their parents
and were blatantly disregarding parental rights and family values. Big
government, in which the public had marginal confidence anyway, was
inappropriately intruding into private matters.

In the late nineties, the fourth major shift
in child protection practice emerged. The crisis associated with and prompting
this shift was very complex. With the presumed crisis in foster care getting
worse and the apparent crisis with in-home services intensifying, the public
cost of child protection began escalating sharply. Increasing numbers of
children were becoming the responsibility of government and the per-child cost
was rising rapidly. A system that already had inadequate operating capacity was
being further stretched. Although the reasons for these increases are far too
complex to discuss in detail here, causes include:


and family violence

unemployment and poverty

shift from parental responsibility to government responsibility for the safety
and well-being of children

The growing belief that government should take
responsibility for violent, unruly, and delinquent adolescents when their
parents decide they have had enough

Adults who are ill-equipped and ill-suited to be

The fourth practice shift was unlike those
that preceded it. They were, for the most part, linear. Practice shifted from
quickly removing abused and neglected children from their parents and placing
them in children’s homes, to placing them in foster homes, to emphasizing
permanence and adoption. Practice shifted from quickly removing children from
their parents, to requiring reasonable efforts with parents to enable their

The fourth shift, in sharp contrast to those
that preceded it, is not linear. Instead, it is multidimensional. Technical
solutions are being pursued in many areas and at multiple levels
simultaneously. Highlighting a few of the technical changes included in the
shift is instructive.

Concurrent planning is a technical change
that combines two prior technical solutions. (See the second addendum to this
chapter.) Emphasis on adoption and permanence is combined with intensive
in-home services. When a child is abused or neglected by parents, in-home
services for the parents are initiated. Since these services may not be
successful, planning for the child’s permanence, typically in an adoptive home,
is concurrently pursued.

Limits on how long children can remain in
foster care were shortened. This expedites permanence and deals indirectly with
foster care drift and increasing foster care costs.

Training requirements for protective services
workers and foster parents dramatically increased. The expanded training
focuses on raising technical expertise, increasing knowledge about specific
issues, and the complex difficulties of particular children and families. The
belief is that more knowledge and technical expertise will help resolve, if not
eliminate, much of the crisis in child protection practice and in foster care.

Managed care became a significant public
policy and practice focus. Generally, this technical change moves child
protection programs and services from being government-run to being provided by
private agencies that contract with the government. This change reflects the
public’s view that government agencies and personnel are less efficient and
less competent than private sector agencies and personnel. The managed care
emphasis also intensified the involvement of members of the Children’s Safety
Net beyond the child protection agency. With that came other emerging
technologies such as case management and wrap-around services.

The Family to Family Initiative of The Annie
E. Casey Foundation, with its philanthropic support, introduced an innovative
variation on child protection reform, emphasizing combining technical solutions
with a commitment to adaptive change. (The initiative is discussed in detail in
a later chapter.) The Family Centered Neighborhood Based (FCNB) initiative seeks
to reform the foster care system. Technical aspects include using data to
pinpoint where adaptation must occur and strategic planning processes that
engage all key stakeholders who must cooperate if successful adaptation is to
occur. Adaptive change focuses on neighborhoods that have been generally
ignored and judged as unfit areas for foster home development. The
neighborhoods and local residents are included based on their strengths and
capacities to improve the safety of children instead of focusing on weakness
and limitation. Concurrently, child protection practice is transitioning to a
more clearly focused community orientation, emphasizing outcomes for children
as opposed to bureaucratic processes and procedures.

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