|| The Politics of Child Abuse in America
||Lela B. Costin, Howard Jacob Karger, and David Stoesz
||Oxford University Press, Inc., ©1996
The central thesis of this 208-page book is that the United States' child
protection system is a failure. It has collapsed under the weight of inherent
contradictions, the negative impact of an ideological political process,
and the inability of the social work profession to address child protection
work. On the face of it, this sounds highly inflammatory and overly hostile.
Yet, the authors have managed to present a balanced and well-supported case.
This means their position merits a reasoned and careful consideration.
The first chapter describes the contradictions in the system. The authors
assert that the change to seeing child abuse as a middle-class phenomenon
both misrepresents the scientific data and leads to ignoring the reality
that abuse is primarily associated with poverty and the lower-class culture.
This results in a rising number of poor, minority children who are not protected
Chapters 2 and 3 succinctly describe the historic developments leading up
to the current system of child protection. The material presented in these
chapters calls into question the oft-repeated claim that nobody paid any
attention to child abuse until the contemporary child savers emerged. Chapter
4 portrays the beginning of the current system with the battered child syndrome.
This occurs within the medical model but, as the system developed with an
initial emphasis on foster care, which does not work well, the shift was
made to a psychological model of family preservation. This, too, does not
Chapter 5 asserts that the system has failed and does not protect children.
The book describes how it has collapsed under the weight of the high turnover
of welfare workers, high caseloads, poor working conditions, and inadequate
and ineffective screening and investigative procedures. Another factor seldom
mentioned is the description of the way the social work profession has abandoned
social welfare work for private practice and psychotherapy.
The final chapter is a proposal for the revitalization and restructuring
of child protection activities by forming a Children's Authority, a local
board to oversee the actions and functions of child protection. This entity
is offered as a way to reinvent government and to bring coherence and stability
to child protection agencies.
The book is interesting and reads well. It brings together many of the criticisms
and problems that others have seen in the child protection system. It is
recommended for those who want to understand why the system does not work
and what is going wrong.
Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies.