Academic journal article Child Welfare

The County Child Abuse Protocol System in Georgia: An Interagency Cooperation Approach to a Complex Issue

Academic journal article Child Welfare

The County Child Abuse Protocol System in Georgia: An Interagency Cooperation Approach to a Complex Issue

Article excerpt

Students of public administration learn early on that agencies often have difficulty working together to produce mutually beneficial outcomes. Frequently mentioned reasons range from concern over turf to the existence of organizational structures that prevent meaningful cooperation. Problems of cooperation can lead to breakdowns in the development and promulgation of policy and may adversely influence agency staff morale.

The consequences of poor cooperation are sometimes profound. Our inability to effectively coordinate the activities of law enforcement agencies, the courts, and child protective agencies has often proven disastrous when dealing with children who are victims of sexual and physical abuse. All too often, media accounts of tragedies against children are exacerbated by one agency not having a clear grasp of another agency's involvement in a particular abuse case.

The movement toward achieving interagency cooperation in the United States grew out of the mandated reporting laws that were enacted by most states during the 1960s. These laws greatly expanded the number of reported cases of abuse and neglect [Besharov 1990]. According to Besharov, in 1963 about 150,000 cases of abuse and neglect were officially reported to public agencies, versus an estimated 610,000 cases in 1972 and approximately 2.1 million cases in 1986. Although both the actual incidence of abuse and the reported incidence of abuse have increased substantially, states differ in their requirements and definitions regarding designated recipients of child abuse reports. In some states, the child protective agency is the sole designated recipient of alleged abuse reports; in about 20 states, however, reports can be made to either a law enforcement agency or to the child protective agency [Besharov 1990].

Achieving interagency cooperation with regard to child abuse cases is hampered by several formal and informal constraints.

There is a lack of consistency regarding which agencies are designated to receive reports of alleged cases of child abuse.

There is a lack of consistency in the designation of mandated reporters of alleged cases of abuse.

Agencies that make up the system that deals with cases of abuse may have different and sometimes contradictory missions and agendas.

There may be considerable disagreement among agency personnel about what constitutes child abuse, in spite of policy guidelines that appear to be clear. This may be the result of the personal beliefs of street-level bureaucrats, attitudes based on racial and/or ethnic biases, and/or local customs and traditions.

Some child protection system agency heads are elected rather than appointed. These officials may have priorities that are not oriented toward child issues. They may not wish to devote significant time to dealing with the problems brought about by interagency conflict regarding alleged child abuse.

The agencies involved are not homogeneous in terms of focus or hierarchy. Some of them are local (city or county police), some involve districts or regions (prosecutors, mental health, etc.), and some have a statewide focus (family and children's services, etc.).

Because of the severity of the problem, many states have enacted legislation that specifies rules and guidelines for interagency cooperation when handling cases of physical and sexual child abuse. These model organizational designs, frequently referred to as protocols, are implemented by means of an executive order from the governor or by an act of the state legislature [Daro 1988].

HISTORY OF PROTOCOLS IN GEORGIA

In Georgia, the General Assembly adopted model protocol legislation in 1987 (O.C.G.A. 19-1-1).(1) This legislation required that a separate protocol committee be established in each of Georgia's 159 counties and that each committee include representatives from the agencies and organizations most involved in the investigation of child abuse cases. …

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