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Child Protective Agency

Children begin by loving their parents.
After a time, they judge them.
Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them.
Oscar Wilde, A Woman of No Importance

The understanding of the horrible problem of child abuse and neglect has increased over the years. This new knowledge has improved the ability to intervene effectively in the lives of troubled families.

The phenomenon of child abuse is a community concern. Child Protective Services is a division within state and local service agencies and is the center of every community’s child protective efforts.

The purpose of every community’s child protection system is multifold:

•  to receive reports of suspected child abuse and neglect
•  identify and protect children
•  identify and protect children at risk of abuse and neglect
•  provide services to help families meet their children’s development needs
•  reduce the likelihood of abuse occurring in the future by changing the conditions and behaviors that 
   contribute to the abuse

The goal of the Child Protective Services is to protect children and rehabilitate families. The safety of the child and the child’s developmental needs are the main priority.

When the child protection agency receives the report of an abusive situation, it is usually a telephone call from an interested person, or it is a phone call from a physician at a hospital.

A twenty year-old mother brings her newborn into the hospital in the early hours of the morning. “I held the baby all day, he cried all the time. I slammed him down in his crib, because I was exhausted. When I checked him, he wasn’t breathing.”

The baby had other marks on his body and so the emergency physician notified the Child Protective Services. If the baby dies, the law is notified.

Almost every state requires that a report about abuse must be referred immediately to law enforcement personnel. Another fact that needs to be verified: Is this an emergency?

Factors that necessitate immediate response are:

•  a psychotic parent with delusions of killing the infant
•  a child under the age of six who is left alone
•  a suicidal or drug-addicted parent
•  an apathetic or indifferent parent
•  a child with bruises and lacerations on different surfaces of the body
•  a young girl who tells her teacher she is afraid to go home because of fear of sexual abuse from her 

Every state has established the required response time from the child protective agency. Most states require an investigation of all cases within twenty four hours.

Facts that help determine the credibility of the report:

•  Is the reporter willing to give his name and address?
•  What is the reporter’s relationship to the family?
•  How well does the reporter know the family?
•  Why is she reporting at this time?
•  Does the reporter gain anything by reporting?
•  Is the reporter willing to meet a caseworker, if needed?
•  Has the reporter made any previous reports about this family?
•  Does the reporter appear intoxicated, angry or bitter?
•  What does the reporter want to happen?

The first assessment determines:

•  Has mistreatment really happened?
•  Is there a risk of further mistreatment?
•  If the child is not safe at home, what intervention needs to be taken?

The more information the caseworker receives from the reporter, the better she is able to determine if this case is appropriate for child protection intervention. The state central registry will be checked to see if this family or child has been previously reported for abuse.

A caseworker will gather all the information about the abuse as necessary. What is the nature of the abuse? How long has it been occurring? It is important to document the exact extent of the injury. If it is physical abuse, where is the injury on the body? The place or setting of where the abuse took place is also included. Then the caseworker will determine the child’s physical and emotional condition. What is the behavior of the child?

An assessment is then made of the accused person. This history will include his physical and emotional behavior. How are his relationships with other members of the family? Does a person have a history of trouble with the law? Is he employed? Is he in the habit of exhibiting bizarre behavior?

Information a caseworker should know about the child:

•  nature of the abuse
•  child’s age
•  how many siblings there are
•  if the child has a physical handicap
•  who knows about the abuse
•  who lives in the home
•  how the child gets along with peers
•  how the child gets along in school 
•  the child’s daily routine
•  the kind of neighborhood the child lives in
•  how much crime is in the neighborhood

It is the responsibility of every parent to take care of the physical, mental, emotional and medical needs of their children. Child Protective Services should only intervene when the parents request assistance or when, by their actions as determined by an outside agency, they fail in this duty. 

Families requiring assistance will be helped by a staff aware of various cultural and religious differences. They will be aware of community services and resources. The staff will intervene in family life only when it is necessary and for the protection of the child. All efforts will be made to keep the family unit complete and functioning. The intervention of the juvenile or family court is used only when the child’s safety cannot be assured.

The Child Protective Service’s process is:

•  report of the abuse, or request for help
•  investigation into the problem
•  assessment of the family
•  plan for solution
•  provision of services that are needed
•  monitor family progress
•  evaluation of family progress
•  case closure

It is the agency’s plan to work with the family to change the behaviors and conditions which led to the abuse, and to arrange placement for the child outside the family, if appropriate. The first stage is getting the family involved. A healthy, respectful relationship will depend upon the rapport of the caseworker and the family.

During the investigation, the abused child will be interviewed first. The reason for this is to assess the safety of the child.

When possible the interviews will be done in this order:

•  the abused child
•  other children or siblings in the household
•  adults in the home who do not take part in the abuse
•  the accused person
•  every person in the family

Interviewing the Child
The age of the child will determine how helpful they can be. A preschooler can usually concentrate on only one thought at a time. A very young child will become tired of talking about what happened to him and may ramble when telling his story. Children over six years of age can understand the interview process and be more helpful.

There is a difference between interviewing for therapy or interviewing for investigation. When interviewing for therapy, you can allow the child to ramble or fantasize. But the investigative interview needs to stay with the facts. This is especially true if a court case is involved.

Indications that an accusation is true:

•  the child has difficulty talking about the abuse
•  the child has difficulty confronting the abuser
•  the interview makes the child very anxious
•  the child describes a sexual assault in age-appropriate language

Indications that an accusation is false:

•  the disclosure is made easily
•  there are no visible signs of anxiety
•  the child uses language not appropriate for his age
•  it appears the child is being prompted
•  there are inconsistencies in the story
•  the parents are involved in a custody dispute
•  the accusing parent is eager for the child to testify
•  an older accusing child appears to be seeking revenge

Drawings can sometimes give a more accurate description of what kind of abuse has occurred. First, the child should be asked to draw a self-portrait. The child may add knowledge of a sexual act to the portrait without any prompting. Anatomical dolls are used with the child pointing to where he was touched.

The interview should be held in a pleasant setting where the child does not feel pressured or intimidated. The accused person should not be in the vicinity. The caseworker can establish rapport with the child by playing with available toys. It is helpful to meet the child on his level, and wait until he is comfortable. The caseworker should address any fears the child has, and be aware of his limitations.

Other siblings or children in the home will be interviewed. They will be asked if they have ever been abused, and what they may know about the alleged abuse.
Once it is determined that child abuse and neglect has occurred and the safety of the child is secured, the focus will be on the family. A complete assessment of the family dynamics will be made to get a clear picture of the factors contributing to the abuse.

Each family is unique. All members bring their own feelings and personality to the problem. Change can come only when every member is allowed to express himself and his feelings. Each family and child situation is assessed individually. Examples of conditions that would indicate that a child is not safe in a family environment are:

•  a child has been abandoned
•  when the parent is psychotic
•  when the parents are addicted to drugs
•  when a parent expresses the fact that he may be abusive again
•  if the parent has inflicted severe and bizarre punishment

A child will never be placed back in the home of imminent danger. Most of the time, the child is not in this kind of danger but there may be concerns for his safety.

Rhonda is a single mother who is addicted to crack and she is unable to care for herself or the baby. The baby was born with drug withdrawal symptoms and has ongoing medical problems.

There is a concern for the baby’s safety, and so the caseworker will seek out Rhonda’s family. A major provision of the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980 is that child welfare agencies will make reasonable efforts to enable the children to remain in their own homes before they are placed in foster care. If there is no family member who will take care of the baby, it will be placed in a foster home until Rhonda demonstrates the ability to care for it.
Observations of the mother’s bonding and ability to care for the newborn is observed on the maternity ward of the hospital.

Inappropriate reportable behavior toward a newborn:

• mother’s lack of control concerning drugs
• mother’s inability to feed, change or care for the baby
• mother’s failure to take the baby home when it is discharged
• parent’s failure to provide for the homecoming of the baby
• parent’s history of child abuse
• parent’s severe mental retardation
• a mother’s serious postpartum depression, manifested by excessive anxiety, crying or confusion.

If any of the above factors are present in the mother, the baby will not be released to her care. Infants are very vulnerable, and no circumstance should place them in jeopardy.

Interview of the Accused Abuser
If the caseworker is not able to make clear to the abuser his patterns of behavior that lead to the action of abuse, the success of the outcome is not likely. From the very beginning the abuser must be made aware of the authority of the child protection agency. The reality of the consequences of his abuse should be stated as to the possibility of what may occur.

Unbelievable excuses need not be accepted. Abusive parents frequently delay seeking medical attention. They often respond inappropriately to the seriousness of the child’s condition. Many times they respond to questions with hostility. They will answer, “I just don’t know what happened.”

An abusive parent will have little understanding of their child’s physical or emotional needs. They may ignore a child’s crying. They find it hard to relate to the child and will refrain from touching the child. They isolate themselves from friends and family and blame everyone for their problems. Many are substance abusers.

Three types of child abusers:

•  inadequate
•  psychotic
•  evil

This description of child abusers who expressed by Andrew Vachss. He is a lawyer in New York City and has devoted his attention to matters concerning children. He has been a frequent guest on the Oprah Winfrey television show and is an advocate for children. His description of the three types of child abusers is simple. He says the inadequate person can be trained, given parenting classes and may be salvageable; the evil type of person is a lost cause. Too much effort is put into what cannot be saved.

Family Assessment
An assessment of the family is made immediately after it is decided what ongoing services are needed. The assessment is based on seven principles. 

•  family factors that impact the child
•  current family issues
•  family function
•  family problems
•  individual and family history
•  individual and family culture
•  family life experiences

The assessment of the family takes into account all the members. It assesses their lives and how they relate to one another. The focus shifts from the abuse to the conditions that made it possible and what can be done for the future.

Decisions to be made:

•  What causes the identified risk factors?
•  What are the effects of the risk factors?
•  What are the individual strengths?
•  What are the family strengths?
•  What do family members think is the problem?
•  What must change so the risk or abuse is eliminated?

To be able to arrive at these decisions, the caseworker must:

•  have competent interviewing skills.
•  be able to gather and organize information.
•  be able to analyze and interpret the meaning of information.
•  be able to predict accurate outcomes.

Part of the assessment is working together with family members to identify strengths that will help in the elimination of abuse. All members of the family must come to the conclusion that certain behaviors and conditions are potentially risky.

Bob may have to give up his participation in a club that fosters his drinking. Diane may have to drop out of some of her volunteer work that took a great deal of her time, causing her to be stressed and tired and have less time for her family.

It is sometimes difficult for the family to recognize that some behaviors lead to negative family interaction. The caseworker must have good listening skills and be flexible in helping the family develop respect for their individuality.

Bob had become so engrossed in his buddies and drinking companions that he didn’t realize his children had needs. When they misbehaved, he beat them, repeating the behavior of his father toward him as a child. He had to learn that children are exactly that, only children.

It takes the services of many community professionals and public services to attend to the needs of abused and neglected children.

A multidisciplinary team consists of:

•  law enforcement
•  child protection agency
•  physician
•  mental health professionals
•  social workers
•  counselors
•  caseworkers

It takes the professional knowledge of all of the above to assess a situation of possible child abuse and neglect. This is a full assistance team. Most medical and social settings have such a team.

The Uncooperative Abuser
When abuse has been established as having occurred, and there is no cooperation from the family, a court petition can be filed to ensure that the child gets adequate care and protection. If the child is placed in protective custody, the family may be informed where he is and when they can visit.

If telling the family where the child is will endanger the child, the information can be withheld. Whether or not the family is in concurrence with the placement of the child, they may still be required to pay for the cost of the placement. 

The uncooperative family does have the right to a court hearing, and a lawyer will be appointed if they cannot afford one. In court, the parents have the right to confront and cross-examine any witness who is against them. All information will be kept confidential. But the agency’s records will report the final outcome of the investigation.

The friends, relatives and neighbors of a family may be interviewed. When their feelings and concerns are heard they are more likely to be participants in the planning process. A caseworker should show no negative disapproval for the accused abuser. When questions are posed to the accused abuser, they can demonstrate interest and empathy. If they are skillfully asked by an experienced caseworker, they will gather the necessary information. Families and persons are more likely to be motivated toward a solution when they are treated with respect.

The caseworker shows his respect and acceptance by:

•  being honest
•  being committed
•  being empathetic
•  communicating with warmth
•  not being judgmental
•  not giving any nonverbal messages
•  not showing any reaction to the nature of the abuse
•  highlighting strengths
•  asking for feedback
•  being flexible
•  explaining the procedure and what will happen next

The end goal for the family should be “doable.” It should be the approach best suited to the needs of the family. The resources of the community should also be taken into consideration. The goals must allow room for changing circumstances and a willingness to try another way, when the old one doesn’t work. Active involvement of the family begins in the assessment stage and should continue in the planning process and as long as it needs to.

What are some roadblocks to successful planning?:

•  The caseworker may have a high caseload and not be able to spend sufficient time with the family.
•  The goals are not specific enough.
•  A caseworker may label the parent.
•  Services needed may not be available in the community.
•  The family is not involved in the planning process.
•  Plans are inflexible.

If there is no successful planning, there will be no successful outcome. Caseworkers heavy caseload leaves many things not completed. This is a sad state of affairs, but it depends on budgets, political agendas and many other considerations. Development of a new model may be needed to stop the overcrowding and to streamline caseloads.

Sometimes a goal is reached, but it does not identify the behavior that must change. When a caseworker labels a parent, he brings his own personal agenda into the picture. To label a person an alcoholic, does not address what needs to be done. “The person should join Alcoholics Anonymous” is a more specific goal.

The parent does not become involved in the Child Protective Service voluntarily, and so there may be a great deal of resistance. It is up to the caseworker to attempt to gain a mutual understanding with the person. If that is lacking, it is probably the first thing that needs to be worked on together. The caseworker has to gain the parent’s trust so that they come to a mutual agreement, perhaps even a compromise to get to the goal.

If the family needs to develop parenting skills, the caseworker has to find a class in the community that they can attend.

It is up to the caseworker to select and provide the appropriate service for the family.

Some of these services may be:

•  family therapy
•  individual or group therapy
•  peer support groups
•  marital counseling
•  alcohol and drug counseling
•  parental education
•  crisis intervention
•  meditation

To individualize the Child Protective Services response to each child and family, the first priority is to determine the risk factor. Then, the cooperation and involvement of the family is necessary for a successful outcome.

Child Protective Services is a division within the state and local service agencies and is the center of every community’s protective efforts.

The goal of the Child Protective Services is to protect the child and rehabilitate the family.

Factors that necessitate emergency response to a child abuse report:

•  a parent threatening to kill the child
•  a young child home alone
•  a young child abandoned
•  a suicidal parent
•  a drug-addicted parent
•  an apathetic or indifferent parent
•  a young girl who says she has been sexually abused

Facts that determine the credibility of the reporter:

•  Is he willing to give his name and address?
•  What is his relationship to the family?
•  Is the reporter intoxicated, bitter or angry?
•  Will the person gain anything by reporting the abuse?
•  What does the reported expect to happen?

Steps in the child protective process:

•  receive report of the abuse
•  investigate the report
•  plan a solution
•  monitor family progress
•  evaluate the family program
•  case closure

The interview should be held in a pleasant, nonthreatening environment.
A child will never be placed back in a home where there is imminent danger.