Child Welfare System in the US
The principal objective of the child welfare system is to prevent child neglect or abuse (Nelson-Gardell & Harris, 2003). Child neglect or abuse are collectively referred to as child maltreatment. According to Federal law, child maltreatment refers to the event in which a child’s primary caregivers (caregivers in this context could refer baby sitters or relatives to the child), or parents inflict sexual, emotional and physical abuse on the child, and also includes the act of neglecting the child (Barth, Barth & Barth, 2017). Therefore, child maltreatment is understood to be a form of serious harm to the child. The act of exposing children to harm or not preventing harmful events from occurring in relation to child welfare and safety also falls under child maltreatment.
There is evidently a need for drastic changes in handling cases of children experiencing maltreatment considering the inefficiency of the child welfare system in helping reduce the number of children under the jurisdiction of child welfare systems (Lee & Miller, M. G. Some of the groups affected by the child welfare system includes children and parents. In the context, that more than 62% of children of about 500,000 youth in foster homes spend up to 5 years in foster homes before being adopted, a weak child welfare system hurts both parents and children because one of the roles of the child welfare system is to improve the home environment of the child to enable the reunion of the parents and the child, and also because where reunification is not a valid option, the child is to be put in a different environment that he or she finds comfortable.
However, in most cases, it is the parents who are the losers because of losing their children. The child welfare system is composed of many organizations which all work for the benefit of children’s welfare. The improvement of child welfare is usually a joint effort by private, community based and public organizations (Children’s Bureau). Some of the private and community-based organizations involved in keeping youth safe and strengthening families include housing or financial assistance, employment assistance, parenting skills classes, substance abuse treatment mental healthcare, residential treatment, foster care and in-home services. Child welfare systems are of substantial complexity and use varying procedures depending on the individual state. The New York City Administration for Children’s Services is the agency responsible for offering welfare services to youth and their families in New York City (Children’s Bureau).
Other individuals who may be considered as mandatory reporters include code enforcement officers, staff members for a home care placement agency and employees of Community Centered Boards. Other mandatory reporters include family therapists, addiction counsellors, psychotherapists and first responders including the police and fire fighters. However, in about 17 states, any individual who witnesses or is suspicious of child maltreatment can make reports to child protective services. There are two approaches through which child protections services workers can respond to a child neglect or abuse report –the CPS workers may “screen out “ the report if the information received is inadequate and inconclusive. On the other hand, reports may be screened in if the information provided meets the legal criteria needed to classify the situation as child maltreatment according to the state concerned.
For a case to be considered substantiated, there has to be enough evidence to support the conclusion that the child or children involved were abused or neglected. If the case report does not meet the definition of child maltreatment according to legal basis, the case may be considered to be substantiated. The agency, upon reaching the judgment that child neglect or abuse actually took place, may at this point contact the courts to protect the youth involved. A juvenile court may be used in the issuing of ephemeral orders to transfer the child to a shelter before a judgment is reached by the court. Within this time, the child’s family or guardians may be ordered to avoid contacting the affected child.
In the context in which the family does not cooperate with or accept these services, the juvenile dependency court may be approached to intervene and enforce the cooperation of the family with in-home CPS services. Nonetheless, this process is only considered if it is judged that the child may remain in the family but be free from harm while his or her family considers and implements proposals and recommendations from the child welfare system. However, the child is at high risk of harm or has already been severely maltreated while in the custody of his or her family, the court’s decision may be to transfer the child from his or home. The final destination for the child may be in a foster home or in a relative’s care.
Despite the intensity of the decision making process in this context, it needs to be broadened and to be made more comprehensive to cover factors including cultural differences in families (Hill, 2006). Other laws that dictate the nature of the child welfare system in the United States and in New York City includes the Adoption and Safe Families Act which protects with special needs from discrimination regarding the allocation of foster care, the Baby Doe Law, which provides guidelines for the treating of disabled or critically sick newborns irrespective of the opinion of the newborns’ parents. The Baby Doe law was in response to the intentional sabotage of crucial aspects of treatment by parents that led to the demise of many newborns with disabilities (Murray & Gesiriech, 2004).
Also, the BABIES act supports child welfare by requiring that changing tables be made available in all federal buildings which are accessed by the public. Furthermore, the CARE act seeks to protect youth from sexual abuse (Murray & Gesiriech, 2004). Other important provisions of this act include the requirement that federal law enforcement money to be spent on enhancing the ability of the criminal justice system to avail criminal history records that are of high accuracy and to so quickly to enable child welfare programs, organizations and agencies to effectively assess activities pertaining to child protection. Some of the relevant theories regarding the child welfare system in the United States includes the attachment theory (Berridge, 2007). According to this theory, a warm reception and relationship with the foster parents is necessary for the child to achieve happiness and a peace of mind.
However, this theory is poorly implemented across the US child welfare system because many children are unhappy with their foster homes. Also, according to social theory, in relation to child welfare, children in foster homes are likely to behave differently from children who grew up in loving and caring environments with their parents regarding positivity and satisfaction levels (Berridge, 2007). The child welfare system is thus not an adequate substitution for the actual family set-up. Also, more channels need to be made available for not only many individuals to be able to report incidents of child maltreatment, but also for the children themselves to report physical and sexual abuse among other forms of child maltreatment. Also, more research needs to be done on factors that will guarantee the safety of children both in their homes and in foster care.
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