Academic journal article The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal

Thoughts on the Liberal Dilemma in Child Welfare Reform

Academic journal article The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal

Thoughts on the Liberal Dilemma in Child Welfare Reform

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION .................................................725


A. Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS) ..................727

B. Racial Disproportionality ..................................728

C. Differential Response .....................................729



Yes, the "Liberal Dilemma" is a problem in child welfare-a central problem.

My own definition of the liberal dilemma is as follows. The dominant group in the child welfare area defining policy and policy reform is and has been for the past several decades a self-styled liberal group. There are others who see themselves as liberal, including myself, who take different positions from this group. But the dominant liberal group has had a silencing impact on many liberals who fear being labeled as right-wing conservatives simply because they disagree. This can make it seem as if the liberal position is the dominant group position.

The dilemma or problem has to do with the nature of the policy the liberal group promotes. The policy focus is not on children, as should be the case in the child welfare area. In theory, all agree that children's best interests should be the guiding principle, or at least a major guiding principle. Instead, the policy focus is on adults and their welfare.1 While the dominant liberal group claims to care about child interests, its real goal appears to be to serve the interests of poor adults and to alleviate the suffering associated with poverty, including any harm that parents might suffer from state intervention in cases of child maltreatment. This translates into a powerful emphasis on family preservation, keeping children at home at almost all costs when parents are charged with abuse and neglect, and providing the accused parents with "services" that often take the form of modest financial stipends or their equivalent.2

A related aspect of the problem has to do with the liberal group's domination over research as well as policy in the child welfare area-what I have called the corrupt policy-research merger.3 The result is that programs chosen on the basis of ideology are then supported by research designed not to test, but instead to prove the programs' efficacy. This research is then presented to policymakers as proof that the programs are "evidence-based" and worthy of development on a mass scale.

The research reveals its ideological relationship to the liberal group's policy preferences, not simply in its results, but in its design. There is no real focus on children's best interests. Instead, the focus is on demonstrating that various family preservation programs are successful in terms that will persuade policymakers to adopt them.

For example, there tends to be an emphasis on the money that such programs will save. And short term, most family preservation programs do save money. Child protective service system intervention involves costs: costs to investigate abuse and neglect allegations, to monitor families where such allegations are substantiated, to provide services, in the more serious cases to remove children and keep them in foster care, and in the most serious cases to terminate parental rights and facilitate adoptions. But if intervention protects children from suffering abuse and neglect and moves children to nurturing homes where they can flourish, then it saves very significant costs in the long run. Abuse and neglect have long-term financial costs including the costs of crime and the criminal justice system, substance abuse, domestic violence, unemployment, and homelessness. And of course there are the emotional and other costs to the children affected. However, policymakers are often most interested in short-term financial cost-benefit analysis. …

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