Book Review -- the Backlash: Child Protection under Fire Edited by John E. B. Myers

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The Backlash: Child Protection Under Fire

Edited by John E. B. Myers. Sage Publications, Inc., 2455 Teller Rd., Thousands Oaks, CA 91320. 1994, 125 pp., $38.00 (hdbk), $17.95(pbk).

As John E. B. Myers aptly notes in this, his most recent contribution to the field of child welfare, child protection has always been criticized and ongoing criticism is inevitable. What differentiates criticisms now from criticisms of the past, however, is the voracity of the opposition that currently is assailing the child protection system--a true backlash that is engulfing professionals who work to protect children. The backlash themes are all too familiar to child protection professionals--assertions that the system is out of control and taking on the character of a witch-hunt that persecutes innocent and hapless adult victims; claims that child protection is fueled by an unwarranted hysteria about child abuse and child sexual abuse in particular; and comparison of child protection professionals to such evildoers as the KGB, the Nazis, and McCarthyites. In this book, edited by Myers and containing contributions from other major figures in the field, these criticisms are taken on directly. Although Myers and the other contributors express a variety of views, they emerge with the same message: child protection must take charge of its own environment.

In the opening chapter of this excellent work, David Finkelhor analyzes child protection as a social movement and the backlash as a countermovement, with strengths (particularly its social base of intense media criticism and aggrieved parents who believe that they have been unfairly accused of child abuse) and weaknesses (clear public support for child protection and few allies in the political, academic, and professional communities). Against this sociological context, Myers, in chapter two, examines the origins of the backlash movement, taking a frank look at the faults of the child protection system itself and the role that professionals have played in contributing to the illegitimate criticism of the child protection system. His analysis is enriched by subsequent chapters that present views of the backlash from a county child protective services (CPS) administrator and state-level CPS administrators, all of whom refuse to make excuses for CPS, fully acknowledging the problems confronting the system, but also pointing out the successes of CPS. These experts offer straightforward guidance on how to improve CPS and thereby enhance services to children and families and counteract the backlash.

One of the most fascinating chapters is written by Lesley Wimberly and presents the perspectives of Victims of Child Abuse Laws (VOCAL). Wimberly's views are must reading for child advocates who wish to truly understand the backlash. …