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The Child Protection Linchpin:

The child protection system is multi-layered,
multi-dimensional, and dynamic. Moreover, there are extraordinarily complex
technical and adaptive issues[14]
throughout the system. In this context, technical issues are those that require
well-considered rules, carefully developed instructions, and thoughtfully
standardized procedures. They relate to the question, “How can this be
done better?” Adaptive issues relate to why it should be done. The
knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and capacity of individuals and organizations
are the foundation for addressing adaptive issues. The adaptive challenge is to
continuously improve the successful fit between the child protection system and
the specific needs, problems, and vulnerabilities of abused, neglected, and
dependent children.

Legislators and rule-makers can certainly
support and facilitate child protection. They can assure adequate financial
resources, provide legislative and administrative guidance, require specific
actions, and mandate defined activities. They can and do impose technical
solutions to anticipated issues and problems. Alternatively, they are
significantly less able to impose effective solutions to adaptive issues and
problems. There, creativity, continuous improvement, flexibility, informed
judgment, and positive change are essential at the individual and agency
levels. In practice, the part of the child protection system that exists
“above” the agency sincerely wants adaptive solutions and adaptive
change but pursues this desire through technical solutions and approaches.
Along with laws and rules, they offer technical assistance to the agency in an
effort to change and enhance the system. The agency workers become more
technically competent but the adaptive issues requiring adaptive change remain

Children, parents, relatives, foster and
adoptive parents, staff members of specialized facilities, and other members of
the Children’s Safety Net also provide technical assistance and suggestions to
agency workers. The effort is to improve child protection and to encourage
adaptive change. For the most part, though, these efforts are not particularly
effectual. The adaptive changes in knowledge, skills, values, attitudes, and
capacity to continuously improve are not evident. Everyone wants positive
change but change is, at best, slow and at worst, nonexistent.

Despite the good intentions and best efforts
of other individuals and entities in the system, technical problems will not be
resolved and adaptive problems will not be reduced without the full cooperation
of the child protection agency. There must be a proactive commitment to
continuous improvement and excellence in all aspects of the agency and its
operation. Further, that adaptive change must extend beyond the agency itself
and embrace all participants in the Children’s Safety Net.

When the question is, “Who
is responsible for abused and neglected children and who is at fault when they
are abused and neglected?” the answer is “Their parents.” A
child’s parents are the primary safety net. When the question is, “Who is
in the best position to minimize the abuse and neglect of children and to keep
children from harm’s way when parents fail?” the answer is, “The
Children’s Safety Net.” The agency is only part of the solution, albeit
arguably the most important part. Legislators and rule-makers, police and other
members of the Children’s Safety Net, relatives, foster parents and staff of
specialized facilities, and the public can and do fill invaluable roles in the
system; but the agency is the system linchpin. If the agency does the right
things right, the first time, on time, every time, one child at a time, the
abuse and neglect of children will not completely go away, critical incidents
will still happen. Nonetheless, the community’s children will be much safer.
Their chances for permanence will be much higher. Their hope for
age-appropriate self-sufficiency will be much more likely to be realized. If
the agency does not achieve and sustain technical and adaptive excellence in
all it does, abused, neglected, and dependent children will continue to suffer
in proportion to the agency’s contentment with business as usual.

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