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A Unique Support Network For Each Child

Thus far, I have explored the transition of the child
protection paradigm from its traditional foundation. At the traditional level,
child protection is rules and procedure driven, emphasizing its reliance on a
perceived, well established bureaucratic reality intended to govern and
regulate its functioning. From this spurious perspective, child protection is
nearly exclusively focused on safety for abused and neglected children, on
keeping children from harm’s way. This important goal is then pursued through
child protection practice that is staff and program centered, providing
prescribed services arrays intended to increase child safety. Children receive
those predetermined services and resources believed by the bureaucracy to best
serve their interests. Child protection operates locally within an identifiable
agency and that agency is itself at the center of the helping circle into which
children are brought for protective services.

At the intermediate level of the transitioning paradigm,
focus shifts from the agency to the community. Within that broader context,
child protection is judged in terms of pre-determined outcomes in addition to
rules and procedures compliance. There is increased reliance on the continuous
inventiveness of workers who function with expanded empowerment and
flexibility. Services delivery is less programmatic and staff dependent.
Permanence is added to safety as a core goal and the child’s family becomes the
primary locus of interest. Child protection is additionally judged in terms of
the adequacy of community supports and resources and the effectiveness of
interagency cooperation and collaboration.

At the advanced level, the paradigm shifts to reliance on
standards, best practice approaches, and the professional judgments of child
protection workers. The ongoing success of the child stands as a third practice
pillar, along with safety and permanence. This emphasis on success expands to
incorporate the family and its integration into the community and its array of
services and resources for all families and children within the community. At
this level, each child and, in turn, each family develops an individualized
support network including resources, services, and opportunities flowing from
public, private, community, family, and neighborhood sources that continuously
adjust and accommodate to the immediate situations and circumstances of each
child and family. Establishing, supporting, and maintaining this support
network is the ongoing focus of legislative and administrative efforts to
assure the safety, permanence, and ongoing success of each child, including
those who have been abused or neglected.

From the support network perspective, Children who have
experienced abuse and neglect should not be viewed differently than children
who experience other situations or circumstances that jeopardize their safety,
permanence, and ongoing success. Included here are children who are not
succeeding in school, children who are not succeeding in the community due to
behavior and adjustment issues, children who are not succeeding due to illness
or physical disability, children who are not succeeding due to psychological or
developmental issues, and on and on. Significant numbers of our children
experience critical life jeopardy for multiple and complex reasons. To treat
those who have been abused or neglected as a different class of people is
wrong. Further, to treat their families as a different class of people is
similarly wrong. Our approach should not vary based on the nature of the
specific jeopardy. We should be sure the child is receiving the supports and
services he (or she) needs to succeed.

This starts with the child’s immediate family, with his
parents. Our intervention then expands out to include the extended family, the
child’s neighborhood and local community, and so on. The intervention moves out
far enough but only as far as necessary to assure the child’s success. We build
the exact support network needed by the specific child to best serve him and
his interests. How to do this can be neither legislatively nor administratively
mandated. Rather, it simply emphasizes the need for identified standards and
best practice methods reliant on sound professional judgment and informed by
consensus based guiding principles for work with children in general and with
abused and neglected children in particular. Re-forming child protection must
proceed with an understanding of those guiding principles as we shift our
perspective to incorporate a clear vision of child protection practice from the
perspective of the unique support network essential for the ongoing success of
the children for whom we are responsible.

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