Conclusions

Brenda McGowan (1983) points out that the field of child protection is one which has been repeatedly attacked "for its failure to insure permanency planning, its inability to prevent placement, its failure to place children in need of protection, its inherent racism and classism, its anti-family bias, its violations of parents' and children's rights, its arbitrary decision-making procedures, the incompetence and inefficiency of its staff, its costs, and its mismanagement" (p. 72). The era to which McGowan is generally referring is the 1960s. Little has changed since, save that a child protection lobby "whose power has increased in recent years as physicians have swelled the ranks of what was originally composed of social workers" (Finkelhor, 1979, p. 2) has formalized its operations, and that state and county agency administrators have become increasingly sophisticated in maximizing the inflow of federal dollars, often with the assistance of the private consulting firms.

Although competent practice strategies have been discussed frequently over the past several years, agency administrators and staff are often confused about how and where to make changes in policy and practice which would better serve children of color (Pierce & Pierce, 1996). As a result, the child welfare system operates to the detriment of the primary clientele it serves. To the extent that there are occasional successes, they are accidental and subject more to the winds of fortune than they are attributable to the knowledge base of the profession or the skills of its workers. While a great deal of clinical and empirical studies have been conducted, a relatively small number of facts have been produced. At best, conventional casework approaches yield a 50% success rate (Garbarino, 1984).

The permanency planning movement has failed to provide the promise of permanence and stability to foster children. It has been blamed for adding another bureaucratic layer to an already fragmented system, thus contributing to rapid turnover and uncovered caseloads (Kamerman & Kahn, 1989) and the failures of family preservation and reunification as major components of permanency planning have been likened to the outcomes of deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill (Fein & Maluccio, 1992).

Multidisciplinary approaches have recently been advanced as a solution to the "crisis" in child protection (U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect, 1995), yet early findings from research on the effects of multidisciplinary treatment indicate that this method was successful only in 40% to 50% of cases (Williams, 1980). In an effort to increase adoptions of minority children, legislative proposals such as the Multiethnic Placement Act have been advanced. Yet few empirical studies have assessed the attitudes toward interracial or interethnic adoption from the perspective of people of color, and interracial adoption remains statistically rare (Bausch & Serpe, 1997). Citizen Review Panels have been established as an alternative to administrative review, yet an audit conducted by the Utah Legislative Auditor General (1996) found that the review type affected neither the length of stay nor the number of placements. Guardian Ad Litem programs have been universally established to protect the interests of children in the family courts. The results have been predictable, as the Program Evaluation Division of the Minnesota Legislative Auditor (1995) explains:

Many concerns have been raised about the use of guardians ad litem. Most complaints have centered on guardian actions in family court cases, primarily in contested divorce actions. Complaints have focused on guardian bias, lack of oversight and accountability, inadequate training, and inappropriate communication between guardians and judges. Parents have also complained that there is no place to seek relief if they have a problem with a guardian.

Among the Auditor's findings: There is no regional or statewide system to process complaints about a guardian; there are no uniform statewide procedures to remove a guardian from a case or program; there is not a universally understood or consistently applied definition of the appropriate roles and responsibilities for guardians in Minnesota, leading to frequent confusion and differing expectations; thirty-three counties do not have any basic training requirements and 57 counties do not have any continuing education requirements. Perhaps not surprisingly, guardians ad litem also enjoy absolute immunity against prosecution for their role in family court.

Indeed, the entire child welfare system would appear to the casual observer to be in a perpetual state of "reform." Incremental adjustments, such as alterations in caseworker training policies, efforts at involving law enforcement in varying degrees during the investigative stages, movement toward a "less adversarial approach" to interventions, and reorganizations of existing bureaucratic structures have been identified as among current reform efforts (Wilson, Vincent, & Lake, 1996). There have also been countless efforts at reform of these systems through litigation. As of 1990, George Miller and the members of the Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families had counted over 45 lawsuits which had been won by child advocates based on violations of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act.

While some modest gains have been made from time to time, for the most part these gains have been temporary. In some instances, litigation has only worsened matters for children in care, as it did in Utah by virtue of further increasing the unnecessary removal of children from their homes. As Miller observed some years ago: "This system has been sued and sued and orders have been issued and people have just continued on their merry way" (Committee on Ways and Means, 1988). These efforts at reform have all failed because the core tasks of the child protection system-investigation of families and child removal-remain unchanged.

Not only has federal oversight has been all but nonexistent, but Congress has often waived penalties imposed on states for lack of compliance with the reasonable efforts requirements of Public Law 96-272 (Ellertson, 1994). After years of well-documented indifference on the part of child protection and foster care agencies toward the modest requirements of the law, Congress has decimated the meager protections it offered children through its enaction of the Adoption and Safe Families Act. I am hard pressed to find room for optimism in the face of recent legislative changes. The war against child abuse will likely continue for some additional years, until such time as the casualties of the war mount to such an extent that even Congress cannot overlook them. The misdirection of funding away from assisting the poor toward instead removing an ever-increasing number of their children is likely to continue unabated until such time as society reaches a more compassionate consensus and disassembles the child removal apparatus, establishing in its place a system which is genuinely supportive of families and children.

 

 
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