In Focus

Jun 27, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

A Vision for Children in America That Everyone Should Get Behind

 

By Rutledge Q. Hutson

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Recently, the Washington Post reported a moving and important story of homeless families seeking assistance. These families, in search of housing assistance, are being turned away because there are no beds. They are also being warned that they may be reported to Child and Family Services for possible investigation of child maltreatment if they don't find a safe place to spend the night.  Those quoted in the story, from the Director of Human Services to local legal service providers to housing advocates, all agree this is not the best way to keep children safe.

In fact, the best way to help most children is to help their families, not remove them from those families - even when those families are struggling.  This is why CLASP's approach is about developing and advocating for policies and practices, within and outside child welfare agencies, which support children and their families.  If we develop adequate supports and services for families to access when needed, the necessity for more intrusive interventions like foster care will become rare.  

Historically, the nation's approach to child welfare has been about "rescuing" children from "evil" parents who physically or sexually abuse them.  While it's critical that we protect children from abuse, the "removal or do nothing" approach is too simplistic.  Nearly 70 percent of maltreatment is neglect.  Helping parents meet their children's basic needs; helping them resolve substance abuse and mental health issues, often arising from their own trauma; helping them find safety from domestic violence - these are all interventions that allow most parents to care for their children and avoid the trauma of separating children from everyone and everything they know and love. 

Also critically important, research increasingly shows such proactive approaches are not only more effective but less costly than years of foster care.  Investing in services that support families is not only the right thing to do for children, it is also the fiscally responsible thing to do.   

Yet, the nation's child welfare system is designed to remove children from their families, not provide a broad spectrum of family supporting interventions at scale.  We must flip this approach on its head.  We need to align federal child welfare financing mechanisms so they keep children safely in their homes, address children and families' needs when foster care is necessary so that children can quickly and safely return home, and find and support alternative families for children when they cannot return to their families of origin. 

To bring about this change, CLASP is working with nearly 40 other national organizations to build consensus for child welfare financing reforms that support alternatives to foster care whenever such interventions can safely keep children with their families.  It may take some time to get a financing structure in place that supports this vision, but there's progress being made.

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Apr 17, 2012  |  PERMALINK »

Misguided Bill Would Eliminate Critical Child Welfare Funding

This post was updated April 20.

By Rutledge Q. Hutson

Tomorrow, the House Ways and Means Committee will consider a bill to eliminate the Social Service Block Grant (SSBG).  This $1.7 billion flexible funding stream helps states provide a range of critical services to some of our nation's most vulnerable individuals, and is often used by states to fill gaps left by federal programs.  For example, SSBG provides roughly 13 percent of all federal expenditures on child welfare in the nation. 

Eliminating SSBG and cutting 13 percent of all federal spending on child welfare will hit abused and neglected children and those at risk of abuse or neglect hard.  Even at present levels of spending from all federal, state and local sources, nearly 40 percent of maltreated children get no services at all following the investigation that determines they were maltreated - not counseling, not parenting education for their families, not foster care - nothing.

The Ways and Means Committee should not cut back already inadequate funding that provides vital services such as child welfare services. To do so would add insult to injury.

UPDATE: Wednesday the House Ways and Means Committee voted to eliminate SSBG and forwarded the recommendation to the Budget Committee for consideration.  Given other actions in the House Budget Committee this week, it will likely adopt the measure.  From there it will go to the House floor for a vote, where Congressional Republicans would likely pass it and continue to advance their odd notion of "shared sacrifice," under which the most vulnerable do all the sacrificing (as my colleague Elizabeth Lower-Basch noted in a post this week). The proposal to eliminate SSBG is unlikely to receive such a warm welcome from the Senate or the President. 

CLASP hopes a truer notion of working together, sharing the burden and helping those in need will be the end result and SSBG will be preserved.

Nov 29, 2011  |  PERMALINK »

Hasty Policy Response Risks More Harm Than Good

Lawmakers have introduced several bills in response to a Pennsylvania child sex abuse case. Policies crafted in response to single incidents risk more harm than good if not done carefully.

By Rutledge Q. Hutson

Tragic events such as the widely known child sex abuse case in Pennsylvania and the allegations against a Syracuse University assistant coach make headlines and rightly stoke community outrage.

They also bring more attention to child welfare and help create public dialogue around protecting children and ensuring they have safe, nurturing environments in which to grow up and fulfill all the potential with which they came into this world. We can gain insight from the events, make important policy changes and try to prevent a similar tragedy from occurring again. 

First, we must focus on the real victims. As we rush to punish or castigate those who, in the Penn State case, apparently failed to protect innocent children, let us not neglect our responsibility to protect the victims now by getting them the help they need to heal.

Second, in our efforts to stop this from ever happening again, let us not be so hasty that we enact policies that do more harm than good.  Members of Congress have introduced several bills so far aimed at ensuring the moral responsibility to report child abuse and neglect is a legal one as well. All of these bills have good intentions.  But when it comes to child welfare, too often we respond to tragedy by adopting new polices narrowly tailored to particular circumstances without thinking about the unintended consequences.  So, let us pause, get all the necessary facts and then decide the appropriate policy response.

The term child abuse and neglect for most invokes thoughts of child sexual abuse or severe physical abuse.  Yet, according to official data reported in the National Child Abuse Neglect and Data Reporting System (NCANDS), child sexual abuse accounted for roughly 9 to 10 percent of substantiated maltreatment over the last five years, and physical abuse accounted for 17 to 18 percent.  Neglect, however, accounted for more than 70 percent of maltreatment.  Thus, while horrific cases of sexual and physical abuse make headlines, most maltreated children face neglect. In fact, child fatalities more often result from neglect than from physical or sexual abuse. 

We need to understand the broad nature of maltreatment to craft appropriate responses.  Identifying maltreatment is often a challenge and the solutions, response and interventions to neglect aren't always as straightforward as may be possible in the Penn State case. A child who has been sexually abused needs a different response than young children tucked into bed and left alone because their mothers cannot afford child care while they work the night shift. The first child may need medical treatment and therapy or may need to be removed from her home and placed in foster care.  Children left alone may need medical treatment if they were hurt in their mothers' absence, and their parents likely need child care assistance.

In other words, child maltreatment is complex and multi-faceted.  Responding appropriately starts with making sure that the right situations are reported.  Responding appropriately also means that authorities that receive reports of child maltreatment have the training and the capacity to assess cases and determine what the child and his or her family need.  Finally, as a community, we need to decide that we are willing to invest in and support not just our individual children, but our nation's children.

This approach appeals to me. Even in this land of rugged individualism, we believe in and rely upon community.  We understand that we need community to survive and children more than anyone else need it.  And all adults have a shared responsibility for keeping children safe from harm. 

However, if we respond to these tragic headline-grabbing cases by doing nothing more than requiring everyone to report abuse and neglect, we have failed in our responsibility to protect children. Reporting is not enough, nor is making it a criminal offense to fail to report going to address the problem.

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