Child welfare U.S. is a complicated issue, but Americans do believe that children are important, and need to be nurtured and protected. For example, pedophilia laws in the U.S. are very strict, and child abuse is universally condemned. However, children do not have the same rights as adults, and are victimized because the are often powerless and isolated. Child protective services in our communities have a difficult mission because they do no want to intrude on the privacy rights of families, but need to make sure they are working for the best interests of children. For example, a recent story in the media focused on a six year old girl who was taken away from her loving foster parents because she was %1.56 American Indian (“Native American Girl”). The original legislation – the Indian Child Welfare Act – was about and preserving stable native families, and avoiding unfair adoption processes in Native American Communities by making sure that children stayed in their native communities. However, in this case it was clear the best interest of the child would be with her foster parents, but she was taken away. Doing “too much” and unnecessarily breaking up a home is seen as negative, but doing too little and allowing children to be victimized is also unacceptable. The intervention process should help children, not hurt them. This process is complicated when agencies and social workers are underfunded, understaffed, and overworked.
One step I would take locally to prevent child abuse and neglect would be to use the ecological approach of child development and train teachers to look out for abuse in their communities. Because they are familiar with their communities norms, values and background, they are uniquely able to identify potential abuse. Working along with a local CPS agency, teachers are a first line of defense against abuse. Moreover, I would focus on home-schooled children and high school dropouts as potential at-risk populations because they are not monitored as closely as children who regularly attend school. Different communities do this in various ways, but I would make it an essential part of teacher certification training. A part of education is making sure students are safe and capable of learning, and child welfare should be seen a more important part of the educational system.
A potential barrier to this practice are simple constitutional rights. Unless CPS knows a child is being abused, they are unable to “raid” a home looking for signs of abuse. Since children are under the control of their parents, an abusive situation is often hidden away, and it is hard for teachers, CPS workers, social service workers or law enforcement to conduct investigations without a parents permission. If the parents have something to hide, it can be difficult for a teacher to discover if a bruise is a sign of abuse, or just a child who had a bad fall. Looking for patterns and repetitive signs is a good strategy, but can often take too long to protect children. The U.S. has privacy laws, making it difficult to discover abusive situations. Since teachers have a personal relationship with their students, they can help initially identify potential abuse. The first step is making sure teachers understand what is abuse and how to identify it, and training is essential. Teachers may feel that this is outside of their job description or area of expertise, in which case school counselors can also play a vital role.
A critical area of research or understanding is cultural variances in discipline, and norms about child rearing. What may be considered child abuse in one community, may be “normal” in others. For example, is childhood obesity a form of abuse? Do different cultures and ethnicities have different forms of punishments or rules, and if so, how can CPS use the ecological approach to make sure all children are protected from abuse. The legal system and laws are set up to identify child abuse, but there needs to be a flexible and organic way of looking at what constitutes abuse in different communities. Each community and family are different, and social workers need to work within this context to establish best practices that serve the needs of their clients.
US News. U.S.News & World Report, “Native American Girl Removed” n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2016-03-21/native-american-girl-6- removed-from-california-foster-home>.