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Child welfare agencies are often failing at protecting abused children

January 29, 2013


A number of recent reports are reflecting a sad state of affairs when it comes to protecting America's children: the child protection agencies in various states are receiving grim reviews. Severe injuries after clear indications of abuse and neglect. Dead children in large numbers.

The Washington state Office of the Family and Children’s Ombudsman just released a report reflecting 74 child fatalities in the state of Washington in 2012.

It looks like social workers at child protective services agencies and others in the child welfare system are dropping the ball on cases where there is clear evidence that children are being abused and neglected. Is it desensitization? Is it pressure to complete cases quickly? Rubber stamping cases to get them off one's desk? The incentivizing of agreeability among workers in the system in the name of personal career progress rather than actual child protection? All those things I personally witnessed in my experiences with the system in California.

As an example of what is occurring, one case in the Washington state report described a state worker who transported an 8-month-old to and from parental visits and saw bruising on the baby’s ears. This worker reported the situation to the social worker and supervisor handling the case, but neither made a report to CPS. The report also reflected child protection staff keeping kids in homes where there was no food, allegations of sexual abuse, and ongoing reports of physical abuse.

Now, a number of investigations throughout the country are reporting grave statistics. For example, a report in Massachusetts by the Office of the Child Advocate review just indicated a spike in infant deaths in cases under the watch of their Department of Children & Families.

Reform is critical on this subject. If we want to turn things around, instead of perpetuating the suffering of innocent children who grow up to become drains and strains on our society, we need to change incentives for workers within the system. The laws should focus on thorough and complete investigation as well as maximum treatment for parents. Instead, we've been putting the focus on efficiency, quick case closings, and personal relationships between staff in the system who often rubber-stamp each other's recommendations.

The Office of the Family & Children's Ombudsman's new report in Washington state is leading to attempts at reform, and representatives of the office will be testifying at the state House of Representatives in a committee investigation of the topic. Let's hope lawmakers in Washington state and throughout the United States start implementing effective reforms.

You can read some more detailed information in Dana Rebik's article in the Q13 News Reporter.



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