Academic journal article Child Welfare

Child Protective Services: Research for the Future

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Child Protective Services: Research for the Future

Article excerpt

Before one can think about future directions in child protective services (CPS) research it is first necessary to understand the legal basis for these services and how they have developed over the years. The legal basis of CPS defines the cases in which workers will intervene, the scope of their interventions, and their legal authority to act. The structure and function of CPS and the treatment given all flow from this framework. All quests for knowledge, then, must be undertaken with a thorough knowledge of, and appreciation for, the structure within which child protective services are managed and delivered.

Legislative and Political Context of Child Protective Services

Legislative Framework

Current CPS programs have evolved largely as a result of three major legislative movements. In the early 1960s, laws were passed in all states mandating that physicians report suspected cases of child abuse and neglect to the appropriate state or local agency [Kalichman 1993]. This legislation reflected an expanded public awareness of child abuse, resulting in notable increases in reporting.

Approximately ten years later, increased uniformity in both definitions of abuse and agency response were advanced by the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act of 1974 (CAPTA) (P.L. 93-247). CAPTA linked state compliance with federal regulations to federal funding for child abuse programs and thereby set national standards for child protective investigations [Otto and Melton 1990].

In 1980, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act (P.L. 92-272) heralded a renewed sensitivity to maintaining family stability for children and making reasonable efforts to maintain them in their own homes. P.L. 9272 was one of the first federal legislative efforts to emphasize maintaining families in which children had been abused or neglected. Although much of the law was concerned with out-of-home care, the requirement for child protective service agencies to provide reasonable efforts to keep children in their own homes had an enormous psychological impact on the field. This emphasis on permanency planning and family preservation continues today. (See, for example, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1993, which provides funding for family preservation and family support services.)

These legislative developments have resulted in a system of protective services that is expansive in its reporting requirements and universal in its mandates for investigation, and have supported, but provided little funding for, ongoing in-home service provision for CPS cases. At the same time that federal legislation has laid the groundwork for the basic CPS system, states have maintained their own individual approaches and even definitions [McCurdy and Daro 1994]. The variations that exist across the country result in a plethora of diverse agencies, data collection systems, and programs that are difficult to track and document.

Community Scrutiny and Political Considerations

Public opinion regarding the safety of children has been largely responsible for current legislation and, through the media, may change the course (or at least the administration) of an agency almost overnight. Stories of child deaths, particularly children who have been reported to child protective services, can have more impact on the service delivery system than any other event. In North Carolina, for example, a series of articles in several newspapers on preventable child deaths aroused public attention, gave impetus to the enactment of legislation to review current policies and intervention efforts, and provided support to increase funding for child protective services [Diamont 1992; North Carolina Child Fatality Task Force 1993].

The administration of child protective services itself is highly political. Not only must administrators be responsible to the general public, they are also often subject to changes in elected executives at the state and local levels. …

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