Reforming child protection is typically understood as
taking needed action to improve and enhance child protection practice at the
national or state level or within an area such as a military or tribal
jurisdiction. Child protection within this context is perceived as a conceptual
whole, as a singular structure. From that perspective, for example, we talk
about the national or state child protection system and work to improve and
enhance the system. It also lets us say things like, The system is broken,
and then recommend ways to fix the broken system.
As pointed out above, there is no child protection
system, although there are local agencies and some programs appropriately
viewed as systems within the larger child protection aggregation. Reform
efforts thus focus on selected aspects of the aggregation with the goal of
introducing new elements, adding resources to existing elements, correcting
malfunctioning elements, or improving the functioning of specific elements.
Through legislative and administrative action, new programs or services may be
added, existing programs or services may be expanded or reduced, and the rules
and procedures associated with specific programs or services may be modified.
Earlier, I argued child protection practice must become
standards driven. The paradigm underlying child protection must first shift
from emphasis on rules and on legislative and administrative prescription to an
understanding of the outcomes expected for children and families. In turn,
emphasis must further shift to consensus based standards serving as clear
markers for practice appropriateness and effectiveness. The best interest of
children does not substantially vary from time to time, from place to place,
from situation to situation. There are standards that apply to all children, to
each child. Until we identify those standards as they apply to child
protection, we will continue to rationalize inadequate practice and justify
insufficient intervention with and on behalf of children.
In addition to being standards driven, the new child
protection paradigm must be best practice based. The best interest of children
is not merely a matter of opinion. There are evidence based approaches and
processes objectively better than other approaches and processes as well as
approaches and processes that clearly do not support and further the best
interests of children. Child protection practice must move beyond the current
procedural approach to a level of continuous invention where better and more
effective approaches and processes are developed for assuring the safety and
well being of children. Those alternative approaches must in turn be carefully
tested and empirically verified. It is possible to determine what constitutes
best practice and we must follow the path to that understanding.
Committing to standards driven child protection that is
based on best practice approaches and procedures requires a concomitant
re-conceptualization of child protection reform. Simply relying on introducing
new elements, adding resources to existing elements, correcting malfunctioning
elements, or improving the functioning of specific elements is not sufficient.
We must literally re-form child protection. The aggregate nature of child
protection represents a form that effectively precludes a coherent,
comprehensive approach to change and invites some version of the current
pick-and-choose process we use. The need is for a standards driven, best
practice based model representing an ideal, comprehensive child protection
system. This model would then serve as the vision for future development,
including legislative and administrative action. Instead of efforts to fix
child protection, our work would focus on continuously approaching the known
ideal. To the extent we clearly know where we are going and how child
protection will look when we get there, we increase the likelihood of achieving
safety and well being for each abused and neglected child, each time we
intervene. We will be better assured we truly are doing the right things right,
the first time, on time, every time, one child at a time.