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What Is The Point Of Reforming Child Protection?

As I suggested above, the child protection system is
little more than a convenient myth. What we refer to as a system is merely an
aggregation of more or less disparate elements or entities with related
purposes or functions. The single factor causing the aggregation to be
considered as a whole is the desire to keep abused and neglected children out
of harm’s way. If we think of this outcome as child protection’s mission, our
focus shifts from whether the system is broken to whether children are being
kept safe.

With this shifted focus in mind, the questions needing
asked and answered change. Instead of asking if the system is broken and whose
fault is that, we must ask if children are being kept safe and, if not, why.
Answering the first part of this question is easy. Yes, most children are being
kept safe but many are not. Knowing why many children are not kept from harm’s
way and determining what to do to correct that deficit is the challenge.

Children have needs, problems, and vulnerabilities that
jeopardize their well-being. Unlike adults, though, children do not have the
knowledge, skills, abilities, and resources to proactively manage this
jeopardy. They cannot personally assure their needs are met, their problems are
appropriately resolved, and they are adequately protected from the myriad of
conditions and circumstances to which they are vulnerable. Public child
protection agencies provide services and resources to meet the individual needs
of children and to resolve their unique problems. Those agencies are intended
to compensate for the special vulnerabilities of children by standing as a
guardian in harm’s way.

Fundamentally, parents are each child’s first and most
important resource. They meet their children’s needs, help with their problems,
and keep them safe. Child protection agencies are intended to supplement and
increase the ability of parents to manage their children’s age-related
jeopardy. For children, their parents are their primary guardians. Child
protection agencies are secondary and have only a supporting role.

For most parents, their guardianship is adequate and very
successful. Their children’s needs are met, their problems are resolved, and
they avoid the harms and dangers to which they are vulnerable. It takes
competent parents to protect a child and for most children, the strength is
there for them.

Unfortunately, the strength is not there for many other
children. The reasons are varied and complex but in every case, the parents
have failed to meet their children’s needs, to resolve their problems, to keep
them safe. They have not succeeded in meeting their obligations to their

We now see why many children are not kept safe. Their
parents are failing in their responsibility to keep their children from harm’s
way. Additionally, if a child protection agency is aware of the possible parent
failure and does not prevent further harm to the child, the agency fails in its
secondary guardianship responsibility. This perspective lets us more clearly
define the challenge. The outcome of child protection reform is to increase the
frequency with which child protection agencies become aware of potentially
significant parent failure. Given that increased awareness, the challenge is to
increase the extent to which the agencies are able to successfully predict
recurrence of parent failure and effectively prevent that recurrence. The
standard is assuring safety and continuing well being for each child, each
time. Although the standard is met for most children for whom child protection
agencies become responsible, it is not met for many others. Why and what to do
about it is both the challenge and point to reforming child protection.

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