Academic journal article The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal

Why the American Child Welfare System Is Not Child Centered

Academic journal article The William and Mary Bill of Rights Journal

Why the American Child Welfare System Is Not Child Centered

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION .................................................733

I. A STRUCTURAL AND CULTURAL ISSUE, NOT A LIBERAL CONSPIRACY ...737

II. WHY ARE PARENTS CONSIDERED THE CLIENT?.....................738

A. The Impact of the Research and Policy ........................738

B. The Child Welfare Workforce ............................... 740

C. The Scales of Justice: The Impact of Legal Precedents ............741

III. BUT WE CAN SERVE BOTH PARENTS AND CHILDREN ................743

A. Ensuring Safety and Well-Being .............................744

B. Preserve Families ........................................ 744

C. Permanency .............................................745

D. Even Probability Theory Tells Us Parents and Children Cannot Both Be the Prime Client .......................................745

IV. ARGUMENTS AGAINST THE CHILD AS CLIENT ......................746

A. Racial Disproportionality ..................................746

B. Poverty ................................................ 748

C. Don't Worry, We Have the Solution ..........................749

CONCLUSION .................................................. 753

INTRODUCTION

Danieal Kelly died on August 4, 2006.1 When police and medical personnel arrived at Danieal's home, she was curled up like a ball on a urine-and-feces-stained bed.2 Danieal, fourteen years old, weighed forty-two pounds.3 Infected bedsores almost reached Danieal's bones.4 The system that was supposed to protect Danieal Kelly failed her in every possible way.5

The first referral for maltreatment in the Kelly home came in 1997, alleging that Danieal's three-year-old brother was seen in bug-infested clothing and with rotting teeth.6 The report was substantiated for neglect, and the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) assigned a contract agency to provide services to the Kelly family.7 The services lasted for two years, and the case was closed in 1999.8 Almost immediately a second report of suspected neglect came in, was investigated, but was ruled "unsubstantiated."9 On October 8, 2002, the Department of Human Services received a new report that Andrea Kelly (Danieal's mother) was neglecting her children.10 DHS files contain no record of whether anyone at DHS investigated the report.

In the summer of 2003, an anonymous caller made yet another report of suspected abuse.11 The caller claimed that the Kelly children informed her that Daniel (Danieal's father) hit the children with extension cords and belts.12 The reporter stated that she herself never saw marks on the kids.13 As for Danieal, the reporter stated that she rarely saw her.14 The report was assigned to a DHS intake child protective social worker for an investigation.15

Over the next ten months, DHS contracted with a local private agency to provide services to the Kelly family.16 Included in the services was the expectation that Danieal, who had cerebral palsy, would be enrolled in school.17 Although the contract with the private agency required that an agency caseworker visit the Kelly home and see Danieal on a monthly basis, the visits rarely occurred.18 DHS was expected to visit the Kelly home two times each year-only about half of the required visits occurred.19

After Danieal's death, the Office of the Philadelphia District Attorney launched an investigation.20 Eventually, the District Attorney presented the evidence to a Grand Jury.21 By the time the judicial process was complete, sixteen individuals, including Andrea Kelly, Daniel Kelly, two DHS employees, and nine employees of the contract agency were convicted of, or pled guilty to, charges ranging from involuntary manslaughter to perjury.22 For the City of Philadelphia, and perhaps for most of the United States, the case of Danieal Kelly is an example of the most egregious form of malfeasance in child protective services.

In all fairness, few cases come close to the shocking indifference to a child's welfare as the Kelly case. …

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