by Jerry Milner and David Kelly – November 6, 2006
Far too often the wrong examples drive child welfare policy and practice in the United States.
We see it time and time again in jurisdictions where there is a child fatality; a formulaic response. Negative stories run, resignations are sought, blue ribbon commissions or task forces assembled, recommendations made.
Perhaps a new policy is created or law passed to hold folks more accountable—often based on the facts of the most recently publicized tragedy as opposed to data and what we know children and families need. Commonly, there are corresponding spikes in the number of kids removed from their homes, everyone becomes scared and that fear is reflected in social work and legal decision making.
Attention then turns to recruiting more foster homes to place the increasing numbers of kids coming into foster care and we create a demand for which supply will never be adequate. Dockets and caseloads swell, workforce stress and turnover become endemic, and children and parents often do not receive services or supports to meet their needs. Such reactions bring tragic consequences and affect tens of thousands of lives annually—the unnecessary separation of children from their parents and ensuing trauma. The child welfare system often becomes stuck in this cycle, and it comes at enormous human and financial cost. Yet, we continue to respond in the same damaging and costly way, over and over again.
As a field we know the trauma children experience when separated from their parents is considered a powerful adverse childhood experience that can lead to long-term health, relational, and self-sufficiency challenges. It is also highly traumatic for parents and can trigger relapse or decompensation for those that may be in recovery or struggling with substance abuse or mental health issues. In other words, fear of making a wrong decision can lead to over removal. Over removal is a near guarantee of harm to a much larger population and perpetuates intergenerational cycles of disruption and maltreatment. This is a quieter, more far-reaching tragedy.
|Child Law Practice (CLP) Today, published by the ABA Center on Children and the Law, is a free online resource for child law practitioners. Practical articles tied to the ABA Center on Children and the Law’s primary areas of work, and the work of our partners in the field, will be shared as they are published and may be accessed at www.childlawpractice.org. Past articles from the parent publication, Child Law Practice, are also freely accessible.|