Child Marriage Needs to End

Child marriage remains shockingly prevalent in the United States and in many cases is forced by parents and other authority figures. Sadly, state laws regarding marriage involving a minor vary widely and are predicated on archaic and outdated thinking.

Tahirih Justice Center estimates that between 2000-2015 over 200,000 minors were legally married in the United States, and 25 states have no minimum age for marriage. While some states have set a minimum age, it can often be circumnavigated with the consent of the parents and a judge if the girl is pregnant.

Poor outcomes often result from child marriage for girls and young women. This includes a greater chance of interruption of education and lifelong poverty. Globally, complications resulting from childbirth are the most common cause of death for women between the ages of 15-19. In the United States, 70% to 80% of marriages involving minors end in divorce, and many of the women who were married as minors experience higher levels of mental health disorders.

Tahirih Justice Center has recorded 3,000 cases of forced marriage in the United States. Forced marriages involve threat, coercion, or lack of choice and are sometimes due to cultural or religious expectations of the families. This phenomenon is not isolated to one particular religious or cultural group but spans many.

According to the New York Times, a young woman recounts how her mother and church leaders for her to marry her 20 year old rapist at age 11, who was a leader in the church. This arranged marriage largely came as a result of an investigation by Child Protective Services. The girl’s family and church leaders wanted to avoid criminal culpability so instead of the situation being handled as one of child abuse, the marriage of the minor to the perpetrator provided a solution for those involved—an appalling and sad outcome.

Sadly, there are also many cases of Americans girls taken abroad by family members and forced into marriage. These scenarios present difficult challenges for the US embassies who are bound by local laws and agencies in the United States that may be attempting to help.

State laws help to reinforce the problem. In Florida, a girl can be married at any age with parental consent if she is pregnant. Many of these marriages involve underage girls with adult men. The Council on Foreign Relations has reported that 90% of marriages involving a minor that were married in Virginia involved a minor marrying an adult man.

Statutory rape laws are effectively mitigated if the minor is married to the perpetrator. Human Rights Watch has provided an interesting analysis of the antiquated child marriage law Florida, finding that Afghanistan’s laws surrounding child marriage are actually stricter than those in Florida.

Fortunately, several agencies are advocating to change these outdated laws and help the girls and women affected including Tahirih Justice Center and Unchained at Last. Human Rights Watch has also launched a campaign to bring awareness to this issue. Through the efforts of Tahirih Justice Center, Virginia recently enacted an age limit of 18 for legal marriage. There are several states working to address this issue, including Maryland and in Florida where child marriage is the second highest in the country. Surprisingly, these laws continue to meet resistance from some lawmakers.

Clearly, this is an issue that impacts the clients we serve as social workers and is an issue of social justice. By showing that we are aware of this issue and care, we can mobilize to tighten these legal loopholes. This is an issue of human rights and women’s rights, and we must demonstrate that these girls matter.

Scottish Survivor Groups Encourage All Survivors of Abuse in Care to Take Part in a Milestone Consultation

Survivor groups in Scotland have called on all survivors of abuse in care to take part in an important consultation, allowing individuals to share their views on a possible financial redress scheme for the first time.

The consultation has been developed and delivered through a collaboration between a range of partners including survivor representatives (Interaction Action Plan Review Group) and CELCIS (the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children in Scotland).

With just four weeks left to the deadline of Friday 17 November to complete the consultation, survivor groups have spoken out about the need for all survivors of abuse in care to take part.

David Whelan, spokesperson from Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarriers group (FBGA), commented: “This redress and compensation consultation gives everyone who has experienced abuse in the care system in Scotland an opportunity to share their views. The consultation offers real choices to the individual and survivor groups as to what it is they would like in any proposed redress-consultation scheme. It allows all survivors a chance to have their voices and opinions heard.  We would encourage as many survivors as possible to take part over the next month.

“Former Boys and Girls Abused in Quarriers group fully support this consultation which was put together in a partnership with other victims-survivors, the Scottish Human Rights Commission, CELCIS, The Scottish Government and others.”

Judith Robertson, Chair of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, said: “Anyone who has been subjected to abuse has a human right to access justice and to an effective and fair remedy. Everyone has the right to live and be treated with dignity.  The Scottish Human Rights Commission welcomes the consultation by the InterAction Review Group and CELCIS on financial redress for historic abuse.  It is a crucial part of developing Scotland’s Action Plan on Historic Abuse and we encourage anyone who is themselves a survivor of childhood abuse to take part.”

Joanne McMeeking, Head of Improving Care Experiences at CELCIS, said: “We are in the final month of the consultation process, which is a milestone in terms of seeking justice for survivors of abuse in care in Scotland. Completing this consultation questionnaire gives survivors a way to have their views about potential financial redress seen and heard.”

Taking part

The consultation is open to all victims/survivors of historical abuse in care as defined by the Terms of Reference of the Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry and is available online.

Trauma Informed Practice: Better Late Than Never

I was 21 years old, fresh out of University and had taken a position as a Child and Youth Worker at a boys group home. After my first day on the job, my roommates were shocked to hear that I had spent the better part of my day protecting myself from being stabbed with a protractor and dodging flying bricks from a wildly out of control 13 year old. I had physically restrained him over a dozen times and at the end of the day, I left exhausted and doubtful that I had a future in this field.

The training I had received focused on behavioral management techniques as many group homes at that time operated as token economies. In reality, this meant that a great deal of focus from staff was connected to the behaviors that the children/adolescents exhibited. If they presented with positive, desirable behaviors, they would be rewarded by moving up a level, or receiving some form of token reinforcement. In turn, if they exhibited undesirable or negative behaviors, they would lose tokens, privileges, control, and status.

It wasn’t until several years later that I began to understand the shortcomings of this model when used in isolation. I was working in the Yukon Territory in a similar setting but had now been trained in ‘Trauma Informed Care’. The children/adolescents in both settings had many similarities despite ethnic, geographical and social differences. They presented with a pervasive pattern of emotional dysregulation, they had problems with attention, concentration, and impulse control, and for the most part, they struggled with getting along with themselves and others.

Most importantly, they were all survivors of some form of childhood trauma. As brain science and studies such the ACE study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are showing, childhood abuse and neglect is the most costly public health issue to date. One look at the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study and you can see that traumatic life experiences such as physical, emotional or sexual abuse, neglect, and other household issues during childhood/adolescents leads to an increased likelihood of developing mental health disorders, addictions, learning & behavioral problems as well as coming in contact with the criminal justice system, along with countless other social issues.

This study and others have also connected early trauma to workplace absenteeism, financial problems, drug use, unintended pregnancies, prescription painkiller use and even a higher chance of developing COPD, heart disease, liver disease and cancer due to the ongoing stress in the body. Despite this study and countless others, we live in a health care system that often ignores trauma and it’s impact on brain and body development.

In some cases, the ongoing practices and policies even further traumatized and victimize those who touch foot into the system. For those that have worked in agencies and organizations that aren’t ‘trauma informed’, you are not alone, and it is not too late. As I reflect back on the shift to becoming ‘trauma-informed’, I began seeing that the client’s behaviors were really a unique language that provided a glimpse into how childhood abuse, neglect and adverse experiences had impacted their physical, emotional, social and mental well-being.

Providing trauma-informed practice means that creating a safe and non-judgmental environment is one of the most important aspects of working with vulnerable populations. As such, building relationships with our clients are the entry point into their healing, and ruptures in relationships (i.e. being attacked with a protractor) can be opportunities to teach emotional regulation, demonstrate how to repair relationships and develop meaningful connections.

As a result, clients begin to feel more empowered, have more control, and have more predictability in their environment. For staff, this means less energy is spent on managing behaviors and more focus is on creating an environment where clients have a chance to heal their broken attachment systems and learn how to calm their physiological responses that were so prone to living in fear and danger. Trauma informed practice is strengths based. It means safety and trust over obedience. For clients, it means that having an emotional or aggressive episode is met by support,

For clients, it means that having an emotional or aggressive episode is met by support, comfort, and learning rather than fewer privileges, shame, and isolation. As health care professionals, we have to turn our focus to the early attachment issues and traumatic experiences that many of our clients have faced.

We have to view behaviors as a language and not as the root problem. We have to become trauma-informed to truly create a safer, healthier and balanced society for future generations to come.

Child Protection in Ireland Post McCabe

Sgt. Maurice McCabe

The controversy surrounding the treatment of Sgt. Maurice McCabe by various State agencies has raised significant issues regarding the operation of our child protection system in Ireland. Issues that perhaps have needed attention for some time and that will now hopefully receive due attention. Before we try to disentangle the fallout from this controversy, let’s briefly remind ourselves of how the McCabe case unfolded.

It was revealed the child sexual abuse allegations made against Sgt. McCabe, referred to TUSLA (Irish State Child and Family Agency) in August 2013 by a counselor employed by the Health Service Exectuive’s (HSE) National Counselling Service (NCS), were false. The HSE is Ireland’s national health service provider.

The following year in 2014, a TUSLA social worker opened files on all four of the McCabe children which also included their then adult children. It has yet to be determined why files were opened on adult children as this is not standard procedure within TUSLA practice or child protection practices. Additionally, it is also yet to be determined what was the reason for the time delay from the initial referral?

It also emerged that the referral to TUSLA originated from the same individual connected with previous 2006 allegation of “inappropriate sexual behavior” against Sgt. McCabe. However, after an investigation by the Office of the DPP (Director of Public Prosecutions),  the investigation determined there were no grounds to proceed with prosecution against Sgt. McCabe.

Nine months after the NCS referral to TUSLA, the NCS contacted TUSLA to advise them that the referral had included an error. They stated:

 “the line ‘that this abuse involved digital penetration, both vaginal and anal’ is an error and should not be in the referral. It is in fact a line from another referral on another adult that has been pasted in error”

An error that will surely gain significant attention under the Charleton inquiry which is investigating the alleged smear campaign against McCabe who was a whistleblower.

In 2016, approximately two years and four months after receiving the initial referral, a TUSLA social worker contacted Sgt. Maurice McCabe to advise that he was the subject of an allegation of child sexual abuse. Sgt. McCabe’s issued a statement through his attorney refuting the allegations and referred to the previous decision not to prosecute him. This was the first contact TUSLA made with Sgt. McCabe regarding the referrals they had received relating to him. The following June 2016, Social Workers informed Sgt. McCabe that there had been an error and that no such allegation was made against him. Again, another error that will surely receive significant attention.

The following June, in 2016, Social Workers informed Sgt. McCabe there had been an error and that no such allegation was made against him. Again, an error that will receive significant attention in McCabe’s defamation investigation.

So what’s the child protection context of all this?

In the ordinary course of things, the allegation of sexual abuse or inappropriate behaviour in childhood made to the NCS by the then adult individual constitutes what TUSLA terms a ‘Retrospective Disclosure’. This is a disclosure by an adult of abuse they experienced as a child. These types of referrals make up approximately 10% of TUSLA’s child protection caseload and have been the source of some controversy in recent years.

The independent Health and Quality Authority (HIQA) is tasked with assessing the efficacy and function of Tusla child protection and welfare services nationally. They carry out both announced and unannounced inspections of child protection and welfare services and in recent years have begun to pay attention to Tusla’s management and assessment of retrospective disclosures.

In recent reports, HIQA has deemed Tusla’s handling of such referrals as inadequate and posing potential risk to children. They have reported in respect of some services:

“…a large number of retrospective abuse referrals had not yet been assessed which meant that the potential risk to children was not fully known”; “inspectors found there were significant delays in the service assessing risks in relation to retrospective abuse and there were immediate and high risks that were not dealt with in a timely manner”.

An adult disclosure of abuse may relate to an incident that occurred decades ago. For example, a sixty year old man coming forward to disclose abuse he suffered when he was eight or nine. It may also, however, relate to abuse disclosed by a 19 year old in which the incident occurred when they were 17.

These disclosures, therefore like all referrals to child protection services, may or may not contain details of an alleged abuser, details of an identified child or children at risk or specific locations or dates of where and when the abuse took place. It may be argued that some of the more ‘historic’ of these referrals may contain no identifying information at all with no way for social workers to ascertain the level of risk to children. But what is crucial here is the above HIQA report which states, “referrals had not yet been assessed which meant that the potential risk to children was not fully known”. 

As recently as February 2016, two months after their initial contact with Sgt. McCabe, TUSLA Child Protection services in Cavan were assessed by a team of HIQA investigators. The inspection was announced in other words the social work department knew the inspection would be taking place. HIQA reported, “there were waiting lists for assessments and for retrospective allegations of abuse and the system in place to manage the assessment wait lists was not robust”.

HIQA stated at this time that TUSLA team leaders kept a list of all adult referrals and that these cases had been audited and categorised with on-going liaison with the Irish State Police Service (Gardaí). This would appear to be good practice in the face of the growing number of referrals to TUSLA, albeit the cases are remaining on a waitlist for full assessment were required.

Despite this, reports concerning the handling of the allegations against Sgt. McCabe highlight a two-and-a-half-year delay in Social Work action on the matter. HIQA are not the only ones who have highlighted concern in respect of Tusla’s handling of retrospective cases.

As early as May 2015, then Senator, Jillian van Turnhout raised the matter with, then CEO of Tusla, Gordon Jeyes following the Laois/Offaly controversy; and as recently as July 2016 Fíanna Fáil frontbench spokesperson for Children, Anne Rabbitte TD, raised the matter in the Dáil (Irish Parliament) with Minister Zappone herself.

During this latter exchange, Minister Zappone acknowledged the failings in Tusla’s assessment of retrospective disclosures. She went on to acknowledge that frontline social workers are in a position where they are working from a draft guidance document and advised that she would seek clarification on the entire matter from Tusla, stating “I have asked to meet senior officials in Tusla next week to be updated on the steps they are taking to deal nationally with these cases, and on cases currently before the courts which may impact on Tusla’s practice in these matters”.

The Minister went onto state “I want Deputy Rabbitte to know that I do have concerns in relation to dealing with adult disclosure cases or retrospective cases. I would like to see timelines on when they have been allocated”. It would appear that the outcome of Minister Zappone’s meeting with Tusla following this exchange is relevant in respect of what is unfolding currently.

The bottom line is that retrospective disclosure of childhood abuses are not being prioritised or resourced. HIQA have noted long waiting lists in respect of these referrals to TUSLA and despite draft guidelines and a number of specific Tusla teams being set up to assess these cases the problems remain. What is occurring is a system failure within Tusla or maybe a failure due to a lack of a system being in place in the first place.

Frontline practitioners are not receiving adequate training and clarification in respect of how to handle retrospective allegations of abuse.

Competing Rights and Confusion

One of the key issues in this allegation or referral of abuse, which occurred in childhood, casts two sets of competing legal rights into play. The adult referrer’s right to justice and to have his/her referral investigated and the right of the alleged abuser to privacy, good name, and the presumption of innocence.

It is these competing rights which have caused the most confusion within the child protection system which is also the central cause of what can only be termed ‘paralysis’ in relation to the investigation of adult disclosures of childhood abuse. If an alleged abuser or victim refuses to engage with social work, does the duty to protect children cease? Justice Barr was quite clear that social workers have a duty to assess any potential future harm to identified or unidentified children. And to do this “before the risk crystallises into actual harm” as Justice Hedigan added in a later case.

It would appear that Tusla’s fear of suit in these matters, or maybe just sheer confusion, has led to these referrals being moved down the caseload list and in some cases not receiving an assessment at all. This can have detrimental effects on alleged perpetrators who, if falsely accused, want to clear their name. It also has effects upon victims who have taken a monumental step in disclosing the abuse they have suffered. Finally, it also affects the social workers who are tasked with assessing these cases. Competing rights to justice and good name hanging in the balance while these matters sit in social work offices.

The McCabe case deals with a false allegation against an individual. However, the central fear is the non-assessment of a referral for a child potential being abused by an individual who has been identified yet has failed to be assessed in a timely manner.

There are no winners in the McCabe case. While the political fallout is yet to be determined, we must remember, in this specific case, a man and his family have been put through hell at the hands of our most trusted of State institutions. Meanwhile, the reputation of confidentiality and professionalism of our child protection services and of our State-run counselling service hangs in tatters.

It is critical that steps are taken to rectify these issues, to support and guide front-line staff and ultimately to provide an efficient and sensitive service to those wishing to disclose abuse, those who may be falsely accused and all and any children who may be at actual or potential risk in our communities.

The Case of ‘Mary’: Further Reflections on Child Protection in Ireland

On 29th March 2017, the publication of yet another report was released examining the operation of our child protection and wider safeguarding structures in Ireland. The Case Review for Mary involved a child left in a foster care placement where the foster father had prior allegations of sexual abuse. Despite other children being removed from the home, Mary was left under his care for almost two years even though the allegations had been deemed credible by TULSA within months of the original report in 2014.

The review was undertaken by an independent reviewer, Dr Cathleen Callanan, a former Child Care Manager within the HSE, and was assisted by two senior staff nominees from the HSE and Tusla. The purpose of the review was to (i) establish the facts of the case, (ii) consider, in particular, the issues of safeguarding and risk assessment in respect of the case, (iii) set out findings in this case with regard to risk, safeguarding and best practice and (iv) identify specific and general issues to inform any necessary learning, having regard to best practice in managing risk and interagency engagement.

The Review, is defined at the outset of the report as:

“A review jointly commissioned by the HSE and Tusla into the circumstances whereby a vulnerable young adult (“Mary”) with an intellectual disability, in receipt of services from both agencies, continued to reside with a former foster family following a report being received of a retrospective allegation of abuse, which did not relate to residents in the foster home.”

The Report was commissioned in May 2016 and completed in July 2016 and the Reviewer should be commended on this timeframe. However, in respect of the delay in publication, the reviewer notes that:

“…the commissioners (Tusla and HSE) made submissions to the independent reviewer, in the period between October 2016 and January 2017. These (separate) submissions were concerned with addressing matters of factual accuracy and seeking clarity around some of the findings of the report. In particular, the Tusla submission was concerned with what it perceived to be an imbalance in the review, insofar as it did not adequately acknowledge attempts made by Tusla to refer the case to the HSE, and focused attention on the activity of Tusla in the case, without giving due regard to the responsibility of the HSE Disability Services. The reviewer responded to the submissions and this document constitutes the final report.”

Report Analysis

The reviewer ultimately notes in respect of the report’s limitations that “The reviewer is not aware of the circumstances that allowed for the lapse of time until the final submission of the report.”

Whatever the reasons for delay the Government discussed the report during a cabinet meeting with some strong, but unfortunately, all too familiar recommendations; namely, interagency cooperation and record keeping.

As a child ‘Mary’ had been placed, by Tusla, in foster care with ‘Mr & Mrs. A’. Due to the level of her intellectual disability, it was agreed that Mary would remain in this setting after turning 18, which she did only a few months prior to the allegation being made. The allegation at the centre of the concern was that “In January 2014 (by which time Mary was an adult), information was received anonymously by the social work department of Tusla in Mary’s locality, alleging that Mr. A had, around fifteen years previously, sexually abused two young teenage girls within his extended family.”

This information was classed as a ‘Retrospective Disclosure’, in other words, a referral made by an adult relating to abuse which they experienced as a child. Retrospective referrals and inefficiencies in respect of their assessment by Tusla formed the basis of the recent controversy surrounding the allegations against Sgt. Maurice McCabe and Tusla’s handling of same.

Unfortunately, we see some inefficiencies in respect of these referrals again here in this case; from the Chronology in the Review:

“an anonymous allegation was received by Tusla on January 10th in the locality where Mary was living. This information was not passed on by the duty team to Team Leader1 for a further five weeks; it came to the attention of Team Leader1 because there was another child in that placement who had an allocated social worker. There was no suggestion that this or any other child in the placement had been harmed and the allegation did not concern any child who had lived in this home. At interview Team Leader1 acknowledged that given the level of demand on the service, the delay was regrettable but understandable.”

Despite the delay in assessing this matter it must be, and is in the review, noted that Tusla acted appropriately in respect of the children in the foster home:

“Two team leaders, one from Tusla child protection and one from Tusla foster care services, were nominated to conduct an enquiry into these allegations. They found the allegations credible and acknowledged in their subsequent report that Mr. A had denied the allegations, and had been supported by his wife in doing so.”

The children were removed from the home and the foster carers were removed from the register of foster carers later that year. However, ‘Mary’ remained in the home despite this ‘credible’ risk being determined and the removal of children being deemed necessary.

This also highlights the fact that a credible referral of sexual abuse lay unassessed on a retrospective wait-list for five weeks before action being taken. I have argued previously, and continue to do so, that it is time to treat retrospective allegations like all other referrals to social work departments and seek to discharge our ‘proactive duty’ to care for and protect children and vulnerable adults alike.

“On foot of the information passed on to her in February [2014], Team Leader1, having sought legal advice, agreed on the need to inform Mr. A that such information was now on record.” Again, this is a delay that we don’t consistently encounter with ‘so-called’ current child protection concerns. Social Workers, rightly, use their authority under Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 to ensure safety and protection, they contact parents, they call out to houses if no response or as follow-up to phone calls and they, in a relatively short space of time, put the concerns to the alleged offender. This doesn’t happen with retrospective disclosures and in all my years of researching this issue I have yet to receive an adequate answer as to why not! Other than staffing and resources there is no legitimate reason why retrospective referrals of abuse should be treated any differently than those deemed to be current concerns.

While the Review highlights that there should have been a clear written referral from Tusla to the HSE Disability Service regarding the potential risk posed by Mr. A to ‘Mary’ the receipt of this information in any form at any level should trigger an appropriate response. If the protection of children and vulnerable adults is to be everybody’s business, then the sharing of soft information or conducting of ‘informal’ conversations between professionals regarding risk need to have consequences and effect an appropriate response.

And this is where the main body of the Review places its focus; inter-agency communication and response between Tusla and the HSE Disability Services. The Review does state that Tusla attempted on a number of occasions in 2014 to have the relevant voluntary services assess risk in respect of Mary given Tusla’s own lack of legal remit in respect of those over the age of 18. Despite this, Tusla still had an ongoing input into Mary’s life in terms of provision of Aftercare services and the extent of a legal duty of care attached to provision of these services needs to be fully examined following this the publication of this review. In fact, it was the input of a specific Tusla Aftercare staff member that triggered an internal review of the matter within Tusla in 2015:

“…The file of Manager1 (with oversight of aftercare) states that in January 2015 the Aftercare Coordinator alerted him to the situation whereby a vulnerable adult continued to reside in a placement with foster carers whose names had been removed from the panel of foster carers, from whom other children had been removed. The file of Manager1 indicates that he then sought and received a copy of the original assessment of the allegations completed by Team Leader1 and Team Leader2 in 2014.”

Initially, prior to the allegation at least, “the placement was considered by the Tusla social work department and the foster care department to be a successful one.” “There were other children also in foster care with Mr. and Mrs. A and they were considered to be receiving a high level of care.” There appears to have been confusion between the agencies whereby the HSE Disability Services state they were informed by Tusla that there was no risk to Mary, following the allegation, while at the same time Tusla were continuing to request the HSE to carry out a risk assessment.

While both agencies are committed to the roll-out of a new joint protocol that will seek to clarify roles and routes of communication, ultimately, the arbitrary age cutoff of 18 and the stark lines of demarcation between services need to be examined and, where appropriate, dismantled in the best interests of service users whether they be child or adult.

In lieu of such proactive developments the Review does states that “In the area where these events took place, an Aftercare Steering Committee has been established by Tusla “to fulfil the requirements of planning, implementing and monitoring a comprehensive, integrative Aftercare Programme for each young person leaving care” (internal Tusla document, 2016). This committee is multi-agency in nature with representatives as follows:

  • Disability Services: HSE
  • Non-Government Organisations
  • Education/Training e.g. SOLAS
  • Residential Service: Tusla
  • Fostering Service: Tusla
  • Children in Care Team: Tusla
  • Primary Care: HSE
  • Department of Social Protection (Community Welfare Office)
  • Housing
  • Tenancy sustainment provider

This seems like an excellent multi-agency initiative if a reactionary development can be classed as ‘initiative’, but why is it only established in the area where this incident took place? Bolting horses come to mind!

Findings of the Callanan Review:

While the review itself details the extent of confusion and contact between the relevant agencies the findings are ultimately that:

  1. Promotion of a shared awareness of intersecting policies and procedures for interagency working including the HSE Safeguarding Policy and the Tusla Aftercare Policy will facilitate a mutual understanding of roles, responsibilities and referral pathways, which would assist the management of complex cases
  2. Formal arrangements to include meetings to address complex cases pertaining to people with disabilities with multi-agency involvement would facilitate improved management or shared management of specific cases
  3. Requirements with regard to record keeping standards are an identified deficit requiring attention. Clear guidance needs to be provided to staff in relation to good record keeping practices.

We have unfortunately seen all these recommendations before and with the Government set to introduce Mandatory Reporting by the end of the year it is critical that all agencies who work with children or vulnerable adults begin sharing soft and hard information and begin to establish pathways for referral, feedback and review as necessary.

Recommendations

One mechanism which would enable this process is a coordinated integrated child protection computer database system. Unfortunately, due to arrive far beyond the implementation of Mandatory reporting, “NCCIS is being rolled out on a phased basis and is expected to be fully operational by the end of next year”, according to TULSA’s press release. However, this should arguably be linked with adult safeguarding services in the HSE and An Garda Síochána to ensure a comprehensive response to abuse and neglect and facilitate the possibility of proactive, preventative actions or the raising of red flags.

The Review poses one final question where it states that “In conclusion, the question emerges as to what would have been a proportionate response to the acceptance of the allegations in 2014.”The fact remains that retrospective disclosures of abuse remain within the remit of Tusla. These disclosures, being made by adults, will always contain the potential for further risk to adults, deemed vulnerable or otherwise. The intersection between services and responsibilities needs to be clarified as posed by this Review.

Furthermore, the legislative structures surrounding the safeguarding of vulnerable adults, those with intellectual disabilities and the powers and duties placed upon Tusla to assess risk in terms of adult referral needs to be examined in detail. I originally felt that a review of Section 3 of the Child Care Act 1991 was necessary and we are told by Minister Zappone that this is underway. I fear we may have moved beyond this territory now and that the suitable recourse is for the Law Reform Commission to examine the entire legislative structures surrounding the protection and safeguarding of vulnerable adults and children in Ireland.

Rightly or wrongly, we again find social care and social work professionals in positions where a lack of clarity in law and policy places them under deeper scrutiny where ultimately wider systemic failures are at fault. In lieu of a staged, coordinated re-location of care, Mary was ultimately removed to a residential unit as an emergency measure 21 months after the initial, credible, allegations of sexual abuse and it is with ‘Mary’ that our thoughts should be.

Wading into Action at the Intersections, The Case for Bresha Meadows

Photo Credit: Verso Books

On July 18th, 2016, 14 year old Bresha Meadows was arrested for shooting her abusive father in the head, and she is currently awaiting trial for aggravated murder.

Bresha Meadows continues to plead “not true” (the juvenile court’s version of “not guilty”) to the charge of aggravated murder. Although, it is a plea attached to an outcome too unsettling to consider, she remains a hopeful black girl, who acknowledges the small freedoms of wearing her own clothes, being able to go outside and having additional visiting privileges. These “freedoms”, additional supports financed by her family, parallel her previous placement in juvenile detention.

At a pre trial release hearing on January 20th, a judge ordered that Bresha be sent to a residential treatment facility in her home state of Ohio. Initially, Bresha faced a life sentence for aggravated murder of her father, whom she allegedly shot and killed. It is reported that Bresha’s father brutally beat her mother and terrorized her family for years. Although her father’s family is insisting he is innocent, Bresha and her family members contend that she was born into a nightmare and was afraid of him.

An August 2016 article reported that Bresha’s mother took necessary precautions such as filing an order of protection and contacting child services. It is unclear at this juncture, whether any of those precautions were effective.

Stories like Bresha’s rarely receive recognition on a mainstream level but when they do, they tend to focus on the criminalization of black girls and the education system. Broadening the conversation on the criminalization of black girls to include child abuse and neglect, witnessing and experiencing domestic violence, trauma and a complacent child services system are imperative.

Bresha is at the intersection of witnessing domestic violence, experiencing child abuse and unsuccessful supportive resources. She has suffered the effects of shooting her father and ultimately becoming the protector of her family. Bresha’s mother, Brandi reported that she was not strong enough to leave the abusive relationship but Bresha helped so they could all have a better life.  Bresha is at risk, as demonstrated by studies that suggest that children who are exposed to domestic violence and/or child abuse are more likely to experience a wide range of adverse psychosocial and behavioral outcomes.

Bresha Meadows

Bresha’s final pre-trial hearing is set for April 17, 2017. Here are 12 ideas for action you can take, developed by the #freebresha campaign, some of which include organizing a #freebresha teach in, and creating art inspired by Bresha, to name a few.

This case is important because of the clinical work that I have done as a licensed social worker with black families in Illinois and Indiana. While my experience has spanned settings, specifically within child welfare and juvenile justice, black families are routinely marginalized throughout the experience.

Limited or no resources, lack of access to services and discriminatory practices are a few ways families are marginalized through the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.

In addition to my concern for her family as a unit, my concern is for Bresha.

Now she languishes in a system that has failed her over and over again. The screams of so many victims of violence, racism and patriarchy bounce off the sterile walls that surround her, only to be swallowed whole by our silence. read more

As a former therapist at a juvenile residential treatment center and juvenile detention center, my group and individual sessions were often tailored from a holistic perspective. Topics ranging from trauma, grief, familial, community and (what I now understand to be coined) state violence were often processed and addressed during treatment.

The longer that Bresha is locked in a juvenile facility, away from her support system, the higher her risk is for attachment and mental health issues. A representative from an organization in Ohio that advocates for youth mentioned, “Children who spend time in juvenile detention are more likely to abuse substances as adults, and less likely to have good educational outcomes and form stable families of their own.” Bresha’s case progression, home environment and psychosocial risk factors such as exposure to violence are elements that contribute to her overall mental health and well being.

Lastly, her case is important to me because she is a black girl and so am I. In solidarity, this is my fight for Bresha.

Black girlhood, violence and child abuse in the black family and the criminalization of black girls are complex topics, especially within the black community. These issues are complex due to the intersections of race, gender and the culture of abuse, all of which have a foundation rooted in racism and patriarchy.

Professor and Author Dr. Stacey Patton states, in How Black Feminists Have Become Complicit in the Abuse of Black Children, “the one form of violence within black communities that does not seem to be recognized as incurred by white racism is violence against children.” Many of these stories include our experiences with domestic violence, intergenerational trauma, community violence & state violence, along with a litany of other socio-cultural issues that impacts black families and communities. These stories are worthy of examination and amplification.

We must reflect on our present moment…who we truly are when it comes to the identity of our profession as one committed to social justice in our culture, particularly on issues where Black cis and trans women and girls are being killed and victimized while their suffering is marginalized, erased, and rendered invisible to us. Read More

Juvenile Detainment and the “Child – Support Model” The Case for Social Justice

In “Do Black Women’s Lives Matter in Social Work: A Gender Analysis of Racialized State- Sanctioned Police Violence” Crystal M. Hayes states, “As a social worker, I am calling specifically on us to do better as a profession when it comes to our commitments to promoting social justice and anti-racism in the world and culture seeped in persistent anti-Black racism, heterosexism, patriarchal violence and misogyny, and anti-queer antagonism and violence.”

According to the National Association of Social Workers (NASW), “Social workers apply social-justice principles to structural problems, use knowledge of existing legal principles and organizational structure to suggest changes to protect their clients, who are often powerless and underserved”. Related to the social worker’s role is identifying and advocating for social justice.

Bresha’s mother is tasked with financing her daughter’s care.

A billing practice, rooted in capitalistic and oppressive ideologies. Deemed by detention center administrators and proponents of the social policy, as “child support”, the financial expectations and repercussions which are placed on families is challenging.

A recent investigation conducted by the Marshall Project highlights the aftermath of this system through stories of garnished wages and the impact of detainment on the child’s behavior. Rooted in the belief that parents did not want the obligation of caring for a delinquent child, “parental billing practices” were implemented. It was subsumed that this policy would serve as a deterrent and attach billing for families that utilize detention centers as babysitters for their wayward children.

Today, mothers and fathers are billed for their children’s incarceration — in jails, detention centers, court-ordered treatment facilities, training schools or disciplinary camps — by 19 state juvenile-justice agencies, while in at least 28 other states, individual counties can legally do the same, a survey by the Marshall Project shows.

Parental billing practices should be abolished given that they are archaic and heavily intertwined with oppressive and racist roots. Roots built on the premise that collecting fees from a parent would somehow encourage them to have a different stake in their child’s life, a financial stake. This would in turn, impact their parenting involvement, engagement– too ensure the child will not put the family in such a (financial) position again.

Parental billing practices do not impact parent – child dynamics to the magnitude of decreasing first time and recidivistic interactions with the system. Given my experience as a clinician, I know this issue is more complex and nuanced than mandated billing practices. Interaction and involvement with these systems is stressful, and more often than not, traumatic. Let’s add the financial expectations associated with billing practices. A writer from the Washington Post references:

“Not only does such a policy unfairly conscript the poorest members of society to bear the costs of public institutions, operating ‘as a regressive tax,’ ” Reinhardt wrote, “but it takes advantage of people when they are at their most vulnerable, essentially imposing ‘a tax upon distress.’”

A clear example that the “personal is political”, the Meadows family is at the intersection of these social systems.

While in graduate school, I had the opportunity to work with the Michigan Women’s Justice & Clemency Project (MWJCP) which works to free women prisoners who were convicted of murder but who acted in self-defense against abusers and did not receive due process or fair trials.

Unfortunately, Bresha’s case progression echoes many of the stories of the women who receive assistance from MWJCP. Just like many of the women prisoners, Bresha and her family attempted to access the appropriate channels for assistance. Given their limited resources, “domestic issues” are generally addressed through the justice and child welfare systems. It appears those systems have failed.

One of the things that I admire about social workers is our ability to advocate for others and ask all the right, even tough questions. There are a lot of questions to ask concerning this case as Professor David Leonard inquires, “The question is, will we listen—this time? Or, if we pretend that we can’t hear them in our communities and our schools and our homes, bleeding beneath the fists of men who claim to love them, will they, like a tree falling in a forest, even make a sound?”

We can not lose sight. Bresha is a child: a survivor of abuse and a witness to violence in her own home, at the hands of her father,

Youth in View: Providing An Engaging Continuum of Care

Youth in View is a not-for-profit child-placement organization dedicated to promoting the well-being of youth by providing a continuum of care through foster care, adoption, post-adoption, unplanned pregnancy intervention and residential treatment services. Located in Texas, founders Sandra and Doug Umoru opened Youth in View in an effort to assist parents in residential treatment facilities who children entered into the foster care system.

Over 3 million reports of child abuse are made every year in the United States with 1 in 4 girls being sexually abused before her 18th birthday. These statistics highlight the severity of abuse facing young people and the need for a proactive intervention to deal with the impact of abuse.

Image Credit: Youth in View
Image Credit: Youth in View

Youth in View bases itself on partnership working to share responsibility and accountability for those who cannot take care of themselves. With four main goals at its center, Youth in View help prepare youth for permanent placement, provide positive family environment encouraging growth and development, provide opportunities to participate in activities outside of an institution, and carefully matching families with children in order to maintain stability.

In some aspects of social work and other fields, reaching people can sometimes be challenging. With first-hand experience of what fostering is like, Sandra and Doug found compassionate and creative ways to work with parents who had no idea what was happening to their child in the Child Protective Services system.

As a plan of care, Youth in the View involve service users in the process while allowing their children to contribute to the policies impacting them. This element of social justice and personalization on both the macro and micro level is often overlooked within the child protection system.

While Youth in View aims to prevent child abuse, it is sometimes difficult when there is not as much support as hoped. Sandra feels there is not enough attention given to child abuse, with it instead being just something that people talk about on banners of campaigns. There needs to be a more practical and engaging intervention in order to support organizations like Youth in View which are not supported by the broad Child Protective Services system. Despite the difficult barriers, Sandra are Doug are determined to make a difference even more so since opening the doors at Youth In View in 2000.

Saundra and Doug Umoru, Founders of Youth in View
Saundra and Doug Umoru, Founders of Youth in View

This positive and heart-warming approach to practice shows that change can be accomplished in even the hardest of circumstances. Sandra and Doug are committed to making a change even with sometimes minimal support from the wider system. Social networking is filled with photos of abused children with the only message being ‘Share if you think this is wrong’. Whilst this increases awareness, a more practical proactive response is needed in order to tackle child abuse but also to help empower children.

Youth in View host training each month in order to provide parents with the right resources and support to raise a child.  Sandra and Doug argue that buying a child toys or being a consistent and caring adult in their life can make all the difference to a child.

The transformation of a child from someone who is withdrawn to someone full of happiness is the best reward any service provider could hope for. Any progress helps to show them that they are one step closer to seeing the light at the end of a very dark and scary tunnel.

Empowerment is a key value promoted at Youth In View, and it is important to provide opportunities for growth. ‘The Lab’ is a space for children to talk about any issues or abuse, and it teaches children how to use their pain positively in an empowering way rather than succumbing to the instinct to run from their experience. By encouraging children to deal with the abuse they suffered, it reduces the negative impact it could have on their adult life.

As a result of Sandra’s own childhood experiences, she empathizes with children in her care by helping them to walk into empowerment and embrace the moment they stopped running. Sandra says that she wants ‘for them to leave Youth in View knowing they’re not victims, but they are victors.

Preserving the Therapeutic Relationship as a Mandated Reporter

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If you find yourself a mandated reporter of child abuse and neglect and have ever had to report a client or patient with whom you have worked so hard to build rapport, the disruption of the therapeutic relationship probably appropriately concerns you. You know you have to call, and you can easily imagine that Jenga tower of rapport and trust you and your client built together toppling over completely.

Furthermore, you may already know that many cases of abuse and neglect do not spring from the woodwork, and there may be a complicated context. It may be important to you as a clinical practitioner to preserve the relationship if possible, so you can help your client and their family further.

HOWEVER: Not all is lost! In both the research, and this writer’s personal experience, The therapeutic relationship can be preserved, or the damage at least mitigated. Others have done it and you probably can too. After you accept that you need to/have to/are going to report (the definitions of abuse and neglect vary from state to state but generally follow the definitions in federal law) consider the following steps:

  • Be realistic and own your role. Be comfortable with the fact that you may damage or extinguish the therapeutic relationship. You are fulfilling your responsibilities as a mandated reporter and these responsibilities are in place to protect your client and their child. Plenty of data illustrates the importance of your mandated role. The CDC notes the stakes when they report that many incidences of abuse and neglect are not reported. In a nutshell, the importance of your therapeutic relationship does not outweigh the importance of reporting.
  • Be as honest as possible. Fulfill your responsibility to make the call, but also be responsible for informing your client, unless contraindicated. Give as much information as possible about the process, which can increase their sense of control over the process. It’s also extremely important to make sure they understand what caused the report, if you can safely do so.
  • Educate on the process. Be familiar with the process and give updates as you have them. Advise how they can advocate for themselves and use your local Child Protection agency as a resource. Provide your client information on advocating for themselves if they are concerned they will not be treated fairly.
  • Acknowledge feelings and emphasize your supportive role. You can be a mandated reporter and still available to be supportive to the client and family throughout the process. You can still listen to and reflect their frustration with the call and the process. Acknowledging feelings  is therapeutic in almost every situation. You can always acknowledge feelings without condoning specific actions.
  • Stick to your guns and do not waver on the report itself. You can acknowledge and validate frustration and still be comfortable with your call. Clarify what those criteria were that led to the call and how you can still be available to prevent them from resulting in a report in the future. The only thing more irritating than knowing someone reported you for suspected abuse or neglect may be the perception they reported you when they did not know it was required.
  • Diffuse some responsibility. If you made the call, own it but you can still spread the responsibility around. You can probably sincerely say:
    •  Law and probably agency policy requires you make the call given the previously discussed situation (what was said, what you observed)
    • Your supervisor advised you are required to make the call, if you consulted them first.
    • You consulted with other clinical team members as well, if you did so.
  • MIX AND MATCH FOR COMBO POINTS! As with many therapeutic techniques, you can use more than one of the above. Acknowledging feelings + being honest about the criteria that led to the report available for support + educating on the process = a sort of “gentle reality check”. It sounds like they are very angry about this situation, they are entitled to feel angry at you and/or the system, but the specific situation required this report.

Again, rest assured that any good faith report that you make of reasonable cause to suspect abuse or neglect always wins when compared to not reporting. You are mandated for a reason. Most reports of abuse or neglect were made by mandated reporters just like you and as noted above, the number of incidences of child abuse and neglect, and the resulting damage to those children and our society at large, already greatly outnumber the number of reports.

If the very real potential for the Child Protection System to be used as a tool of oppression concerns you, you have other options as a social worker, and these concerns should not impact your decision to make a report:

  • If prevention remains a possibility, or if you do not already reasonably suspect abuse or neglect, make sure your at-risk client is aware of the risks. A large part of this writer’s Pediatric Clinic role is advising families at risk of abusing or neglecting their children of the definitions of abuse and neglect, the mechanisms for reporting, interviewing them to identify the psychosocial context that they feel causes those risks, and connecting them with appropriate education and/or resources.
  • If you fear your client may be treated unfairly after the report, you can still be their advocate throughout the process. Share your knowledge of the process. Again, making sure they know you remain available is an important part of maintaining the therapeutic relationship.

SAFETY NOTE: Much of the above bears the assumption that you can safely discuss a report with your client. If you or your supervisor have any realistic concern about your safety, particularly if you work in the client’s home, it is okay to skip some of the above steps. While it may be better for the therapeutic relationship to be honest about making a report, since the client may be aware of you as the possible reporter from the context or reading of your non-verbal cues, as far as the therapeutic relationship goes, your safety outweighs the importance of that relationship in the same way a child’s safety does.

If you do not feel safe speaking honestly and sincerely with your client about concerns that you have for their safety or the safety of children in their care, you may not be the best therapist or social worker for them anyway. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

You can find more information child abuse and neglect, including the laws in your state, at www.childwelfare.gov.

New Field Placement Model With Crittenton Earns Award from CSU Fullerton for its “Teaching and Mentorship” Culture

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Fullerton, Calif. – Crittenton Services for Children and Families (CSCF) is proud to announce the agency’s nomination and selection as this year’s recipient of the Most Committed Partner award by both the CSUF Social Work Department and the CSUF Center for Internship & Community Engagement (CICE).

Each year CICE hosts its annual Community Engagement Awards as a way to highlight students, faculty and community partners in their efforts to strengthen the bonds of engagement that connect the University and the community. CICE’s main mission is to bring faculty, students, and community partners together to create high impact practices for student success.

“Our collaborative partnership with CSUF extends learning from the classroom to the community, giving students experiential learning opportunities that will build their skills, their resumes, and their ability to positively impact the world around them. It is truly a win-win,” said Joyce Capelle, Chief Executive Officer, CSCF, “We are honored to have worked alongside outstanding faculty and staff of CSUF for more than a decade, in order to provide students practical work experience while at the same time making a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable youth.”

Under the “Stellar Support of Students” category the CSUF Department of Social Work nominated Crittenton as an organization that has made a difference in the career trajectory of students via mentorship.  As part of the non-profit’s mission, Crittenton, has made it a part of its strategic plan to make the idea of a “teaching institution” a reality and part of the overall agency culture. For its efforts in guiding and mentoring students, Crittenton has been recognized for going above and beyond its duties as an experiential learning host site.

In addition, as of 2015 both Crittenton and CSUF celebrate a 10-year anniversary of working together to serve vulnerable children and their families curtail the effects of child abuse, neglect, and trauma.

Since the inception of this evidenced-based field placement opportunity for social services, human services, and social work students have been able to take ample opportunity to earn academic units, licensing requirements and gain valuable work experience at a nationally accredited agency.

In fact, throughout this 10-year partnership period, roughly 121 undergraduates and 35 graduate students from CSUF have been given the opportunity to take part of a non-profit’s mission with a connection to a proud national child welfare legacy that goes back to 1883. Nearly 30 CSUF students have been hired as Crittenton employees via this partnership.

At the helm of this internship program collaboration with CSUF is executive team member and CSUF Alumna, Denise Cunningham, Senior Vice President of Crittenton Services.

Cunningham has been a strong advocate of community partnerships between Crittenton and higher education institutions, and has also served in the capacity of a mentor. Her commitment to student success is such that as of this year the CSUF Social Work Department has appointed her Chairperson of the department’s advisory council.

To build tomorrow’s workforce in the human services fields it takes the acquisition of knowledge in the classroom in tandem with developing skill-sets in the community. Crittenton’s partnership with CSUF is an excellent example of this collaborative approach to developing effective practitioners and future change agents.

Rape Culture, Child Protection, and 50 Shades of Grey – Related Really?

Rape Culture, Child Protection and 50 Shades of Gray may not appear to have an obvious connection, but let’s take a moment to consider. We have seen a significant increase in concern about the impact of domestic violence and child abuse in high profile cases within the sports and entertainment fields as well as several post-secondary institutions finding themselves in the spotlight for failing to address sexual assault and rape culture on college campuses.

In Canada, we watched questions emerge regarding sexual misconduct allegations against broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi which eventually led to his termination while he awaits trial. Presently on trial in Europe is former head the IMF Dominique Strauss-Kahn for his alleged role in a sex ring in France in addition to an alleged sexual assault against a hotel maid in New York City.

The Roman Catholic church has been plagued with allegations of sexual abuse while working its way through years upon years of confirmed sexual abuse against children. The Royal Commission in Australia stated, “We will also hear, hopefully, from Governments around Australia, on how they intend to approach redress for survivors of abused in government-run homes, orphanages and other institutions.” The recent conviction and sixteen-year sentence of former rock star Gary Glitter for abuse of young girls under the age of 13 with some abuse occurring as far back as 3 decades ago. Domestic violence, sexual abuse, molestation, sexual assault are significant issues in child protection matters.

At the heart of this intersection is the question of what children are exposed to and what is consent. Does a woman consent to be beaten by a partner? Does a child consent to sex with an adult? Does a drunken woman consent to sex when she is too impaired to really consent? Those who are in a powerless and subordinate position are not able to consent, but this appears to be a complex question in today’s society.

Additionally, how the media plays out the issue of consent matters to society at large. 50 Shades of Grey sets up a standard for consent that suggests it might not be so voluntary and yet still acceptable. The Atlantic offered a thoughtful piece on how the 50 Shades of Grey books and the movie are really depicting nonconsensual sex which must then be characterized as some level of abuse. This view may not be welcomed by its millions of followers, but it’s worth noting the BDSM community is not welcoming this movie as exemplary of what they perceive to be voluntary and consensual activity in this sexual arena.

If we want to create safer families and communities for children, should we not be connecting the dots between the various forces that impact how safety is defined and created? When we make a media sensation out of non-consensual sex abuse and assault, it enables sexual and gender-based violence. That’s a problem.

The Adrian Peterson Case: Do Culture and Religion Matter?

While the media seems largely focused on the fact that the Minnesota Vikings finally decided to bench its star running back Adrian Peterson, a more important—and politically incorrect—question needs to be asked: To what extent, if any, did Adrian Peterson’s religious beliefs and cultural background as an African American contribute to him beating and injuring his son?

Adrian Peterson
Adrian Peterson

Many details about the case have been well publicized and have not been denied by Peterson: Last spring, he “disciplined” his four-year-old son at his Houston home by stuffing leaves in his mouth and hitting him repeatedly with the branch of a tree or “switch.” The boy was also reportedly beaten with a belt.

The “whoopings,” as Peterson called them, resulted in the boy sustaining lacerations, bruises, and welts on his legs, arms, buttocks, and genitals. The injuries were reported by a doctor after the boy’s mother took him for a previously scheduled appointment.

The 29-year-old Peterson is a deeply religious Christian, and his Twitter feed is peppered with religious proclamations and snapshots of Bible verses. The conservative Christian 700 Club has featured Peterson on its website. And Peterson seems to wholeheartedly believe that children should be disciplined using physical punishment.

Upon questioning, his son told his mother that Peterson “likes belts and switches and has a whooping room.” On September 15, Peterson tweeted, “Deep in my heart I have always believed I could have been one of those kids that was lost in the streets without the discipline instilled in me by my parents and others relatives.” Peterson’s adherence to such an ideology is particularly remarkable, given the fact that another of his sons was allegedly beaten to death when the boy was two years old.

After intense public pressure, the cancellation of a major NFL sponsor, apparent threats by other companies to cancel sponsorship, and the news that Peterson had been accused of abusing another son in 2013 while Peterson was not charged in that case, the Vikings dramatically changed course. Initially, after Peterson was indicted on child abuse charges, the Vikings had him sit out one game and then allowed him to rejoin the team. After the public outcry, officials barred him from all team activities. Some predict he will never again wear a Vikings jersey.

It probably wasn’t helpful to Peterson’s case that after the initial slap on the wrist, he sent out this tweet, indicating that God was on his side.

Many people Doubted YOU! Now look at you! You didnt Overcome Major Obstacles in your Life! You Identified who u were in Christ! . . . If you could only see how God views you! Just understand that you are a Mighty Vessel that God Chose to do Great things!

Now, statistics on the use of corporal punishment in conservative Christian households and those in the African American community are raising questions as to whether Peterson’s religious beliefs and cultural background fueled his ideology about the need to control his son’s behavior in this way and, ultimately, to injure him.

I’m not aware of any studies that show that children in one faith or racial group are more at risk for abuse than others, but there is reason to believe that children who are physically punished are more at risk for being physically abused than those who are not physically punished. Studies show that a vast majority of child abuse is delivered in the midst of adults using corporal punishment. Furthermore, children are more likely to be injured when parents use corporal punishment frequently or use implements to spank children.[1]

Corporal punishment among conservative Christians

Americans overall have been spanking less and less. The percentage of parents who favor corporal punishment has dropped from 84 percent in 1986 to about 70 percent in 2012. Many Christians choose not to spank their kids, pointing out that, according to the Bible, Jesus never advocated that children should be taught respect through hitting. Some Christian leaders have changed their views and now oppose spanking.

On the other hand, conservative Christians tend to believe that their religion requires them to spank. Many justify this choice by referencing numerous passages in the Book of Proverbs that condone using “the rod” to discipline children. For example, Proverbs 23:13—14 states: “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die. Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”

Some Christians also see the need to use corporal punishment to correct children’s inherent “sinfulness.” Days after Peterson’s indictment, a psychologist and minister with the conservative Christian organization Focus on the Family wrote an op-ed in Time magazine expressing this sentiment:

Unfortunately, each of us enters this world with desires that are selfish, unkind, and harmful to others and ourselves. Spanking, then, can be one effective discipline option among several in a parents’ tool chest as they seek to steer their children away from negative behaviors and guide them toward ultimately becoming responsible, healthy, happy adults.

Corporal punishment among African Americans

Similarly, African Americans also rely heavily on the use of corporal punishment. One study that looked at the childrearing of kindergartners shows that 89 percent of black parents spanked compared to 79 percent of white parents. According to a New York Times op-ed written by Georgetown University Sociology Professor and author Michael E. Dyson, the belief among African Americans that they must discipline their children using physical punishment is inherited from the days of slavery.

The lash of the plantation overseer fell heavily on children to whip them into fear of white authority. Terror in the field often gave way to parents beating black children in the shack, or at times in the presence of the slave owner in forced cooperation to break a rebellious child’s spirit. Black parents beat their children to keep them from misbehaving in the eyes of whites who had the power to send black youth to their deaths for the slightest offense.slave child

Dyson goes on to say, “If beating children began, paradoxically, as a violent preventive of even greater violence, it was enthusiastically embraced in black culture, especially when God was recruited. As an ordained Baptist minister with a doctorate in religion, I have heard all sorts of religious excuses for whippings.”

Defending Peterson

This association might explain why a number of black athletes have come to Peterson’s defense, often stating that the kind of beating Peterson gave his son is not all that uncommon among blacks. On a New York radio broadcast, Lions running back Reggie Bush said he and many of his friends were punished in the same way as Peterson chose to do with his son and that he would “harshly” punish his one-year-old daughter if need be. “I definitely will try to—will obviously not leave bruises or anything like that on her,” Bush said. “But I definitely will discipline her harshly depending on what the situation is.” Initially Bush said he’d consider using a switch but then said he misspoke. “I said spanking,” he said. “Spanking is different than a branch or a stick.”

In an interview on NFL Today, NBA Hall-of-Famer Charles Barkley said corporal punishment is a way of life among the black, southern culture. “Whipping, we do that all the time. Every black parent in the South is going to be in jail under [Peterson’s] circumstances,” Barkley said. Peterson has shown remorse for injuring his child, yet he has continued to defend his decision to “discipline” (what others call “beat”) his child. On the day of his indictment, he told investigators, “I feel very confident with my actions because I know my intent.”

One African American blogger noted:

Corporal punishment is a cultural norm in the black community based on their Christian beliefs. They take to heart biblical passages like Proverbs 13:24. …People may find this abhorrent, but Peterson can use freedom of religion as a defense. His lawyer will put the Bible on the stand.

Meanwhile, some celebrated football stars, both black and white, such as Cris Carter and Boomer Esiason, have deplored Peterson’s actions and his justification that he was simply disciplining his child the same way that he was disciplined in his youth.

It’s safe to say the conversation about the morality of corporal punishment is not over. Sadly, it took a high-profile case of severe child abuse to begin a meaningful public discussion on this topic. But in addition to debating the pros and cons of physical punishment, we must also examine the religious and cultural roots of spanking among conservative Christians and in the African American community, as well as Americans of all faiths and races. If we don’t, we have little chance to protect children such as the son of Adrian Peterson.

NFL Unintentionally Raises Awareness on Domestic Violence and Child Abuse

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In the past weeks, many of you have heard of the reported incidents involving several NFL players all over the media and the internet sphere. First, it was the Ray Rice viral video of him assaulting his wife that made headlines, then Adrian Peterson later dominated the news cycle after being indicted on child abuse charges. Both of them are star sports personalities in the National Football League (NFL).

Naturally, most fans were shocked and disappointed over such events which have cast a shadow on the entire NFL organization and its members as the new season kicks off. However, prior to the recent high profiled incidents, social workers were already throwing flags to raise concerns on the increasing amounts of domestic violence incidents in the NFL, and recent events have spotlighted even further the darker side of the game. Like any other human beings, they aren’t perfect and struggle with different kind of personal and family issues.

Many grass roots organizations, fans, and other activists have come out publicly in opposition of how the NFL has handled these events. Pop-star singer Rihanna claims the NFL dropped her song after she issued an angry about the Ray Rice incident. For those of you who might not remember, former boyfriend and R&B singer Chris Brown has assaulted Rihanna back in 2009. You may or may not agree, but Rihanna, for her own part, has expressed in a vigorous manner her disapproval of that decision on Twitter. Meanwhile, Peterson has reacted lately to this controversy by apologizing for all the harm he has caused and has mentioned being currently seeing a psychologist to work on his difficulties.

I don’t want to conclude anything about these sad events too quickly as I do not know all the details and whole aspects of both of these situations.  However, I want to relate these events to the realities of many non-famous people, who might deal with these situations on a daily basis, without having the media spotlight on their personal lives and battles.

On domestic violence : a clear definition

According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, domestic violence is defined as:

The willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault and/or other abusive behavior perpetrated by an intimate partner against another. It is an epidemic affecting individuals in every community, regardless of age, economic status, race, religion, nationality or educational background. Violence against women is often accompanied by emotionally abusive and controlling behavior, and thus is part of a systemic pattern of dominance and control. Domestic violence results in physical injury, psychological trauma, and sometimes death. The consequences of domestic violence can cross generations and truly last a lifetime. For More Information

Domestic Violence can be recurrent and lasting over time, but it can also be a single event. We often tend to believe that physical violence is the only form of domestic violence and while it can lead to very dramatic consequences such as death. Other forms such as emotional abuse, economic and physical isolation can be equally damaging. According to current statistics, 1 out of 4 women in the United States will experience domestic violence in their lifespan with female young adults are at a greater risk for it happening to them. It is also important to note,  the existence and suffering of male victims of domestic violence as well as domestic violence in same sex relationships.

As a result of recent events with Janay Rice, a lot of people are asking, why don’t victims of domestic violence just leave? The article #WhyIStayed: Voice for Domestic Violence Victims on Huffington Post can provide some answers to this question for you. A lot of victims will hesitate to leave (or will do and come back to their abuser) for many reasons. Some victims will fear for their lives or the lives of their romantic partner when suicide is threatened. The murder-suicide perpetrated by Jovan Belcher of Kansas City Chief against Kasandra Perkins the mother of his child.

For many others, the problem has been going on for so long that their self-esteem is completely crushed and they do not have the confidence to step up and realize that they do deserve better. Some spouses will use the children to blackmail their partner and the fear of losing custody of their kid can be strong enough for the victim to decide to stay in the relationship no matter how toxic it is. Domestic violence is a very complex issue, and there is rarely one and unique cause to it.

What about child abuse?

Child abuse is a very sensitive issue to most of us, but abuse can take various forms to include emotional abuse as well as physical abuse. Corporal Punishment is still legal in many states with the US. However, any discipline that leaves marks and bruises lasting longer than 24 hours can range from improper discipline to severe abuse depending on the severity of injuries to the child. Children are the most vulnerable citizens of our society and protective factors should be put in place that will allow them to develop and grow into their full potential. Children who are victims of child abuse experience increased risks for being victims of domestic violence or abusers in intimate relationships.

Where can you get help for domestic violence and child abuse?

If you suspect a child to be abused or neglected, you can call the National Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD. Crisis counselors are available 24/7 to listen to you and your concerns.

If you recognize yourself in this description of domestic violence, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799-SAFE or you can visit their website at NDVH.org for more information.

I hope this article has been helpful and if you want to discuss it more further, I invite you to submit your comments or to tweet with me at @kharosc.

Should Kids Have to Keep Themselves Safe?

Recently, Violence Free Waitakere (VFW), in West Auckland NZ, launched “‘Jade Speaks Up’, a new multimedia resource to help keep children safe from violence.” The media release said, “The resource aims to help children put safety strategies in place to support themselves, should they feel afraid in their lives whether from bullying, natural disasters, adult threats or witnessing grown-ups fighting.”

Jade Speaks Up
Purchase Book

Natural disasters aside, because none of us can control those, the question has to be asked, “Are we at the all-time social low that kids, “aged 7-12 years,” now have to take responsibility for keeping themselves safe from violence and bullying?” That’s what adults were supposed to do when I was a little boy.

All kudos to Elaine Dyer and her team at VFW for a job well done. It’s a nice 8 minutes of animated characters on real-life backgrounds, catchy music, with guides and resources for teachers, parents, therapists, and social workers to facilitate sessions with children on self-preservation.

But goodness, what a sad indictment it is on us, as adults. We must finally admit we can no longer trust ourselves and each other to fulfill one of the most important roles of adults — child protection.

The countless and growing statistics and news reports attest to it: we’ve got so bad at looking after kids, the least we can do is help them look after themselves. If this saves one kid from hiding, and it’s worth its weight in gold.

I know, I’m preaching to the converted if you’re reading this. But, like me, I hope you’re holding out for Elaine and VFW to release “Jade Doesn’t Have to Speak Up.”

Child Protection: The Cases You Live With

My first case as a social worker involved child abuse, and the father of an infant had inflicted a spiral fracture of the tibia and fibula on his child. He and the mother ended up losing their parental rights to the child, but they would go on to have other children together. It was a powerful lesson in the ability of child protection to intervene in the life of a child. But, we must understand, it is one life at a time.

child-abuseNot long after meeting that child, I would meet another. He was a boy of about 8 years old who was found early one Sunday morning, naked and wandering between garbage cans by a local beach. He was in a dissociative state. The police officer who found him brought him to the ER and showed us the boy’s emaciated body with evidence of old burn marks. It would be weeks before we learned who he was.

I thought of these two cases recently when I was looking at autopsy photos of another case. Our work in and around child protection is a world that few in our society truly understand. We are exposed to the individual horrors that one person can inflict on the vulnerable. We see things that most people would not even want to talk about.

I did my first practicum 40 years ago, and I am still proud to call myself a social worker. I am still excited by what we do. Yet I have seen social workers leave the profession because the work got too much. I have also seen workers who have stayed but shouldn’t have as they become bitter and toss their power about as retribution for the harms that they have seen.

Vicarious trauma is the right term for it, yet the term creates a sense of distance as though it is somehow a little less harmful than “real” trauma. The trauma of being a witness is real. As social workers, we speak of it often when we talk about how children are affected by witnessing domestic violence. We spoke of it when we saw the children being led from the Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. We again speak of it when we see people exposed to violence such as the survivors of the Columbine High School shootings, the killing of the police officers in Las Vegas just a few days ago or the cold blooded murder of 3 RCMP officers in New Brunswick recently.

In child protection, we must also acknowledge that we too are the witnesses and the victims of the violence that we experience in our work. We take it home. It lives within us. Too often we here about self care and then go back to work. To be really good at this work, we must be really engaged in being healthy and hold on to our reasons for coming into the profession. I am honored to teach social work and listen to new students each year talk about entering social work in order to help people and make a difference. If we cannot hold on to our health, we are unlikely to hold onto truly making a difference.

In order to manage vicarious trauma within ourselves, we must be willing to listen at what is going on within. Our work can change our world view to one where safety is not seen as the norm but rather risk is seen that way. As social workers, we might also remember that in the course of our day to day work we are exposed to a skewed sample. Largely speaking, people who are doing well don’t come to see us.

We must also advocate for work environments where talking about the traumas that we see and how they affect us is seen as not only ok, but also as desirable. This includes being allowed to express our grief and anger so that we can normalize not only what we see but how it affects us. A self care plan is essential, and this is nothing new. Although, I continue to see far too many colleagues forgetting themselves, and helping ourselves is also essential part of helping clients.

Boy Held Captive Teaches Us About Good Child Protection Practice

Canadian media have been covering the story of a 10 year old boy who was rescued by child protection workers in London, Ontario. They boy, who cannot be named in accordance with typical Canadian child protection legislation, had been locked in a bedroom of his aunt and uncle’s house for between 18-24 months. The room, like the rest of the house, police and social workers described as squalid. As the Globe and Mail newspaper reports, he was found in the master bedroom. His bed and his pajamas were soiled with urine and the room had left overs of his fast food diet. Feces were also found in the room.

For this boy, his confinement must have been even more confusing as he had a 9 year old cousin, the daughter of the aunt and uncle, who was not confined. But somehow, she must have been ingratiated into the need for secrecy as she went about her life outside the home.

The boy is not originally from Canada and has limited English. He has not been registered in school and thus was not known to educational officials. Therefore, his absence from school did not ring any bells – he just wasn’t known.

Media have also interviewed neighbors who also did not know of the boy, adding to his invisibility. Yet, somehow, child protection received a tip that he existed and went out to investigate. Knocks on the door went unanswered but the social worker noted a shadow moving. Police were summoned and the boy was found.

The good child protection practice here is being inquisitive and paying attention to what you see. The boy has been severely neglected bot physically and emotionally. He reportedly now wants normal food and the chance to go to school. This suggests that he had a connection to the average life experience of a child prior to being imprisoned by the aunt and uncle who now face criminal charges.

His case also reminds us of how powerful families can be in keeping abuse hidden. One has to imagine how isolated the boy was but knowing that just on the other side of the window were children and families going about their day. The home was in a typical residential neighborhood that might be seen anywhere in Canada or the USA. Children lived in the homes around this boy and he would have heard him them out playing. What power existed with the aunt and uncle that he would have remained so invisible? This is a lesson for child protection.

But so too is the apparent strength of his early life. Trauma informed therapy can build upon that helping him to realize the dream of going to school. Inside that dream will be many chapters that might range from connecting to other kids on up to building a future for himself.

No doubt in the weeks to come we will learn more about this story but it reminds us of the need to act, be alert to the data as it comes to you and to think critically about what the data means.

Austerity Cuts Force UK Child Protection Authorities to Raise Thresholds for Abuse

The latest report findings from the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) will come as no surprise to UK Child Protection Social Workers. The report states that Child Protection services are struggling to act as little more than an emergency service due to cuts in resources and a rise in demand for intervention.

nspccThe report, How Safe Are Our Children 2014, details how the number of families needing support has grown due to families being unable to survive financially. Toxically, this is also combined with families feeling the impact of the drastic cuts to early intervention services, such as children’s centres, which could have previously prevented family problems from escalating.

As resources are continuously stretched, the NSPCC report suggests that many councils have been forced to raise the threshold at which they intervene to protect children. Peter Wanless, Chief Executive of the NSPCC, commented: “With record reporting of child abuse, hard-pressed children’s social service departments have little choice but to raise the threshold of where they act.” It is estimated that currently only one out of every nine UK children who are at risk of abuse or neglect are receiving statutory support.

The Government responded to the cuts by arguing that they were improving Child Protection by cutting red tape. This rhetoric fails to ring true in practice when only last week a poll from Coventry City Council revealed that workloads in children’s services have increased by almost 50% in the past two years. With higher caseloads comes less time to do meaningful work with a family and therefore that family’s problems and risk level are very unlikely to decrease. Subsequently the Social Worker’s stress level and amount of paperwork increases as they desperately attempt to “prove on paper” that they are trying their best to keep the child safe. It is a vicious circle and ultimately a disservice to the Social Worker, the child, the family, and society as a whole.

A colleague of mine working as a Social Worker in Child Protection recently told me how her average working day is 12 hours, equating to five hours unpaid over-time each day. Even then, she is not able to meet all of her targets and do everything she needs to do. “That’s the hardest thing about it”, she told me, “when you find yourself breaking promises to families, that you really, genuinely intended to keep, because you know they need that support. But, at the end of the day, I have so many cases and so little time, that all I can do is constantly respond to the most urgent problem. There’s no real prevention work. We’re just constantly fire fighting. This isn’t what I signed up for.”

There is nothing more heartbreaking as a Social Worker to know that nothing you ever do will be enough to help a child, because really, they needed someone to be there for them years before you met them. It never stops hurting when you research the case history of a troubled teenager you work with and read all the abuse and neglect they experienced as a toddler which went unnoticed.

Peter Wanless states: “We know that small and simple interventions early on can and do stop abuse and neglect for a fraction of the cost of trying to tackle it later down the line.”

“Acting alone, children’s social services struggle to be more than an emergency service, getting involved when pain and suffering for children is already entrenched or risk is very high.”

“Successive governments have talked the talk on ‘early intervention’ and joined-up services but have failed to deliver lasting change.”

Let’s be very clear about this- resource shortages are the fault of the policy makers, not the Social Worker’s who regularly work 12 hour days to keep other people’s children safe. The cuts to children services have a devastating impact on multiple levels. They deny parents the resources and opportunities to improve their parenting skills and prevent their children from being taken in to care; they destroy the morale and mental health of the Social Worker’s who know firsthand what is needed to keep children safe and yet are ignored by the decision-makers; and ultimately, as we know all too well, these cuts will lead to more horrific child deaths.

Seeing Beyond the Negative: How Understanding Culture Adds Perspective

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Whilst working in local authority (Child Welfare Agency) as an auditor and conference chair, I have been involved in several child protection cases involving North Korean families. Child abuse is a complicated issue and there is much research on families in the UK from different cultural backgrounds and a lot of information can be found by looking at the Serious Case Review Biannual Analysis which is what I often do when researching issues to do with child abuse. As social workers we are often focused on some of the most difficult aspects of humanity, and our need to find out what the negatives are almost prevents us to see what the positive aspects of people’s worlds and cultures are.

Serious case reviews are a well researched government sponsored data gathering which is put into information which is easy to assimilate and not full of academic jargon based on class room discussions. The Biannual Analysis deals with real families that we as practitioners work with every day, unfortunately these reviews consist of children and families struck by tragedy. What did the Biannual Analysis tell me about North Korean families? Much in social work is based on hunches and anecdotes, my current inquiry was why are so many North Korean families being referred to children’s services and why was the nature of the child abuse so similar? I have not been able to find any information that can help me which might be a good thing bearing in mind the criteria that cases are submitted for SCR’s.

I have been involved with cases which have similar factors, they show the impact of parents who as children were abused or had harsh treatment in their past, and who may also have had recent post traumatic stress from possible torture or fear and anxiety of retribution or separation from family who may be at risk back home.

Also, I made an information request to the ICS department, ( ICS is our data capture system)which did not show huge numbers subject to child protection plans, but certainly showed significant numbers of children who are subject to child welfare services. This particular local authority has a high number of North Korean families. Other facts about their circumstances and child in need support may provide us with some interesting insights into these families who have sought refuge in a far away country.

As a social worker I am challenged to look after my wellbeing by eating healthy food, however local to where I work, there is a great Japanese street food restaurant that does fast take away orders. This is where I normally grab something to eat, served by the same familiar woman who takes my order and shouted it out in what I thought was Japanese to chefs busy cooking on open fires in a row of street kitchens.

Almost suddenly in these times of austerity in London, a new Japanese restaurant opened around the corner to my office and as I have no commitment to anyone place I tried it out and began ordering my take away from the new place. A few months later a familiar face greeted me in the new restaurant, the smiling friendly face of the lady who formally shouted out my order with limited softness of face, in the bustling open street kitchen.

She greeted me like a long lost friend and was pleased to see me in the shop that she was now working in. She seemed very much more relaxed, possibly because the restaurant was fairly new and did not have as many customers as the street stall and she could actually have a conversation with me instead of the conveyor belt like system which kept the street kitchen lively and cheap.

Mi Yung and I started talking about her journey to Britain, and I was overwhelmed by her declaration about how she did not care if she woke up and it was raining (in Britain we moan about the weather) she was happy when it rained because she had the freedom to work where she wanted and to stand up to her bosses if she felt that her rights were being impinged. She had loved working in the street kitchen but the quickness of the serving had not allowed her to talk with people and this was what she wanted to do more than ever.

Her journey to freedom was based on the need to interact with people when she wanted and to be truly happy, working in this new restaurant meant that she could grow in a way that most people who are born into less restricted societies take for granted. And although she needed a job she expressed to me the need to work somewhere that she could be free and meet and greet the world.

Now, my inquiry is much more based on the positive aspects of the North Korean society in the area; how to mobilise the positive aspects of people like Mi Yung who see the world with eyes based on growth not just on past abuse or being stuck in trauma. Understanding culture is important for social workers, but we do not always need to learn from negative occurrences of adult violence or child abuse.

We can learn by understanding and interacting more with people who have come through adversity attempting to catch glimpses of how they remain resilient and what aspects of their positive worlds can aid those who are not so able to let go of their past. In terms of child protection the local authority should talk to people like Mi Yung to gain an understanding or what support can be put in place to aid and support North Korean families. With regard to social workers intervening with families of similar backgrounds, this lively discussion seems to have been missing in the past decade of social work transformation.

How to Protect Your Child Against Sexual Abuse

Child Sexual abuse is still a taboo topic in many homes. We don’t talk about it, we don’t want to hear about it and we just pretend it would never happen in our homes. What if I told you that educating your child about the dangers of sexual abuse could protect them?

What if I told you that teaching them about the proper names for body parts could help give them the language they need to keep themselves safe? Well, the fact of the matter is knowledge is power. The more age appropriate information you give your child, the better equipped they will be to handle difficult situations. Let’s begin by discussing the language we use.

Too often we use pet names for our body parts. We call vagina’s pocket books and penis’s ding-a-lings. Although this may help the parent in a moment of discomfort to communicate with a child, it does not help the child develop the vocabulary needed to express themselves in the event of abuse. For example, could you imagine the child who runs to the police officer and says to them that, “that man or woman touched my pocket book”?

It may even take you a while as the parent to get what they are trying to say to you. Teach your children the right names for their body parts. This can begin right from birth. If they touch their penis, you say “penis” or if they ask you, “mommy, what’s that”? Then you say, “Breasts”.  Another way to educate your child is by informing them of who can touch them and for what purpose.

If your child is a toddler, it is very important that they understand the difference between being assisted and being fondled. If they are capable of caring for themselves, then only the parent and medical professionals should be allowed to examine their genitalia or other private body parts. We know that perpetrators of sexual abuse are typically relatives or people close to the family. So, it’s important that we inform our children that they should not be afraid to tell their parents if someone, no matter who it is, touched them inappropriately.

Which leads me to the next point, how to distinguish a good touch from a  bad touch. Educate your children on what good touches and bad touches are. They should know that a hug or high five are good touches. Bad touches are touches to their private areas or any touch that makes them feel uncomfortable. You can use dolls to do this or even role play with your child. Finally, let’s talk about supervision.

Child-on-child sexual abuse is extremely common. Children who are left alone playing house or playing unsupervised in general are at risk for inappropriate sexual behaviors. Educate your child on what behaviors are acceptable during play time and ensure that an adult is always present to monitor their activities. I would highly encourage anyone who uses nanny or baby-sitting services in their home to keep the home monitored to ensure the safety of the child.

These steps reviewed frequently with your child will greatly increase their chances of not falling victim to sexual abuse.

Confidentiality Policies that Hurt Children in Child Welfare Protection Cases

A news story regarding abuse animal recently resulted in thousands of dollars in donations. The community was appropriately outraged when pictures and details of the abuse were aired by local television stations. The community responded with donations and tips that led to the identification and arrest of the abuser. It was striking that the community immediately mobilized to provide care for the dog, supporting the local rescue organization, and law enforcement in their efforts. The response was immediate and generous.

For me, the more striking aspect of this story was something unrelated. A story on Page 6 of the local newspaper reported the same day that three children had been removed and placed in foster care. A two-year-old had tested positive for exposure to three different illegal drugs.  Their babysitter called authorities when they observed that the toddler was not acting normally. The story went on to state the children lived in deplorable conditions and two children were hospitalized, but there were no donations. If there was an arrest, it was not reported. Instead of support for the organization charged with providing emergency care for the children, there was criticism that the abuse was not identified earlier.

boy with dogThe contrast in the two stories was readily apparent. The community rallied to support the animal rescue organization, law enforcement, and the veterinary clinic providing medical care for the dog. There were donations of money and supplies, assistance to law enforcement, and offers of care for the dog. The animal rescue organization issued a statement saying they did not need a home for the dog 24 hours after the story was reported; they had more than enough donations and offers of assistance.

Meanwhile, the child welfare agency was criticized, the medical provider not identified, and the role of law enforcement was not acknowledged. I doubt the story of child abuse prompted many calls offering a home for the children. Generally only stories of abandoned or abused infants generates calls from potential new foster parents or inquiries about adoption.

Why was there such a difference in response? I believe that, in part, confidentiality played a role. The names and locations of the children were not included in the news story. Details of the care required for the dog were shared while the care of the children remained confidential. The names of the alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the dog were widely publicized, including their ‘mug shots’. The rescue organizations and other community support agencies were identified. Conversely, the names of alleged perpetrators of the abuse of the children were withheld. Rarely are details of child abuse shared with the public. When there are news stories, they tend to be only the horrific cases where a child has died, has been starved, or is severely abused, and the focus generally is on ‘system failures’. For the record, I would not advocate for publicizing ‘mug shots’ of abusers in most child abuse cases. I firmly believe in a strength-based approach to treating and ultimately ending child abuse.

I understand the interest in shielding vulnerable children from media coverage, and my intent is not to compare children to animals. It is worth noting, however, that child protection emerged as a field as a result of animal protection laws. I am not one of ‘those people’ who bemoan the support received by animal rights organizations.

However, maybe child welfare could learn something from animal protection efforts. Maybe the public reporting of child abuse should be accompanied by a request for support, a list of opportunities to help. Maybe child welfare should be more transparent about the important work they do every day so that the next time a child is abused finger-pointing is replaced by offers of support. I look forward to the day that shelter care facilities for abused children are obsolete because of the abundance of foster homes available. And perhaps one day child welfare will be able to turn away offers of support. Better yet, maybe one day communities will be so engaged in protecting children that abuse reports are a rarity and replaced with a ‘norm’ of citizens reaching out to ensure children are cared for and nurtured. Perhaps one day….

Child Welfare: Where Are We Going And Where Have We Been

Child Welfare refers to a set of government services that are designed to protect children, and also to encourage stability within the family.  These types of services include, but are not limited to:  foster care, adoption services, and child protection services.  The “child protection services” were aimed at investigating child abuse and neglect, and if necessary, removing the child from the home.

Policies and legislation regarding child welfare trace back all the way to 1825, when states were given the right to remove neglected children from the abusive parents and the home.  The children were then placed into an orphanage or in another home, which later became known as “foster care”.  In 1835, the Humane Society founded the National Federation of Child Rescue.

These agencies had the authority to investigate child maltreatment.  It the late 19th century, private agencies, decided to follow the Humane Societies’ agenda and were able to investigate maltreatment, present cases to the court, and advocate for proper child welfare legislation.

Moreover, in 1874 the first case of child abuse that was criminally prosecuted in court was in regards to Mary Ellen, a young girl that was moved from place to place and beaten by her stepmother.  Etta Wheeler, a Methodist social worker, sought assistance from Henry Bergh, founder of the ASPCA, to use the defense of “cruelty to animals”.  Mary Ellen was removed from the home and placed into a safe environment.

Government officials continued to make changes and create policies to benefit workers fighting for neglected children.  President Roosevelt, in 1909, created a “publicly funded volunteer organization to establish and standards of childcare”, and in 1930, the Social Security Act provided funding for interventions needed for the “neglected and dependent children in danger of becoming dependent”.  In 1958, the Social Security Act was amended and mandated that states would fund child protection efforts.

However, the Child Abuse Prevention and Tax Act (CAPTA) was passed in 1974, and US Congress implemented a number of laws that made a major impact on the state child protection and welfare systems, by providing federal funding wide-ranging federal and state child maltreatment research and services.  This helped lead up to Congress passing the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, which was the first federal child protective service act which primarily focused on the state economic incentives to help decrease the length and number of foster care placements.

Interesting enough, also paving the way for social workers today was Helen Boardman.  She earned her Master’s in Social Work in Chicago, and worked as a Social Worker at a Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles until 1972.  It was there that Boardman developed a passion for advocacy for children and the prevention of child abuse.  She was the first to recognize the true depth of child abuse and make it known to the medical and legal systems.

Boardman pressured Henry Kempe to write, Battered Child Syndrome Awareness of a Child, as a social issue, and pressed the National Children’s Bureau for mandatory laws in reporting child abuse.  Helen Boardman was the founding member of the Social Workers Association of Los Angeles (SWALA), which played an enormous role in the planning and development of the National Association of Social Work (NASW) (Univ. of SC, 2005-2006)

Therefore, the mid-70s through the 1980’s seemed to be where child welfare gained a lot of momentum in the policies and reform.  However, policies will continue to be amended and added in efforts to ensure that children remain safe and secure in their home environment.  Following the footsteps of Etta Wheeler and Helen Boardman, social workers must continue to advocate for the voices that cannot fight for themselves.

References

American Humane Association. (n.d.) Retrieved from:

Bryjak, G.J. (2011, April). Parents, Children, Faith Healing, & the Law. Retrieved from

Michel, S. (2012, April).  Child Care: The American History. The Social Welfare History Project. Retrieved from american-history/

North Carolina Division of Social Services. About Child Abuse and Neglect.

University of Southern California. (2005-2006). California Social Work Hall of Distinction.

Retrieved from http://socialworkhallofdistinction.org/honoree/item.php?id=75

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2012). Major Federal Legislation Concerned

With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption. Child Welfare Information Gateway. Retrieved from

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