As Stowman and Donohue (2005) note: "Child neglect is the most prevalent type of child maltreatment, yet only a few standardized methods exist to assist in the assessment of this widespread problem. Existing measures of child neglect are limited by the nature of child neglect itself, in addition to issues of social desirability responding, and items that may infer blame and parental responsibility" (p. 491). There is nothing, of course, wrong in holding parents and other caregivers responsible for their actions and any harm that they do to children. However, this focus on guilt should not be the primary one. The primary one should be a focus on how best to keep children safe. The children at hand should always be at the center of the process. That is not currently the case (Conrad, Ellis, & Ellett, 2006, p. 38).
Although it is not the central point of this paper, it is worth noting briefly that there has already been research done to determine how to create a standardized protocol. The following is one such possible way in which to allow caseworkers sufficient flexibility to allow them to serve each individual child's needs while working within a standardized system. Cheung (1997) describes one such experiment:
A series of training programs which focused on culturally relevant questioning skills and video-recorded interviews in child sexual abuse cases were designed for social workers, police officers, and clinical psychologists in Hong Kong. An interview protocol was developed with four stages: rapport building, free narrative of account, questioning, and closure. The content analysis of 74 role-played interviews of video-recorded investigation revealed 119 questions and statements that were rated by these professionals and their instructor as helpful techniques in interviewing children suspected of having been sexually abused. Although each professional interviewed child victims with a unique style, they all found that maintaining a balanced perspective to play their roles in protecting the child, assessing the child, and collecting evidence was the most important aspect in an investigative process.
One thing that is clearly missing from current policy is an assessment of the stakeholders in the process -- and how the needs and goals of the different stakeholders are often very much at odds with each other. In looking at who may support -- or oppose -- my proposal to advocate on behalf of the Violence Against Children Act of 2009, I have identified a number of groups that could be considered stakeholders. Within Kid's Voice, there are two prominent groups that work together to accomplish the mission of representing children in a court of law either for dependency or delinquency matters. Child Advocacy Specialists collect the background information, interview clients and witnesses, and put together a case summary, which is given to their legal partner to help with the court side of our representation. They have significant expertise in the overall societal issue of deterring crimes perpetrated against youth. The agency's lawyers form an additional set of stakeholders, with the same set of goals but with different expertise. These two groups might well be able to make a moderate but significant difference in advocating for the passage of VACA.
Our attorneys and child advocates can give an intimate description of the downfalls of not having a standard guideline in place when it comes to the assessment of a case of child abuse and/or neglect. They can also provide personal testimony as to how under-trained and often overburdened caseworkers are, and how both of these aspects of current casework have led to many victims of abuse and/or neglect being left in hideous living situations for much longer than they should have. Furthermore, our CAS and attorney representatives can provide an overview of how cases of abuse and/or neglect reach us, what happens to the victims, and how a wide range of child social service agencies are interconnected in their effort to advocate for said victims. This holistic view of how complex a process it is to care for neglected and abused children will help to demonstrate the necessity for both federal oversight and standardized protocols (Olsen, 2007, p. 60).
One group that is rarely considered as an important set of stakeholders is former victims of abuse and/or neglect. One of the reasons that the current system of child welfare -- one that so often fails to protect children -- continues is that its victims age out of the system and in important ways disappear from view. They take their physical and emotional scars with them as they enter adulthood. Many will suffer for life from the ill care and lack of protection that they received as children. Adding their voices to those calling for reform will be a call for accounting on a system that failed them.
Moreover, their voices bear an authenticity that cannot be voiced by anyone else. One of the most important roles that our agency can perform is to assemble former clients who suffered due to a lack of standardization within abuse or neglect case assessment to attest to their former plight, this would substantially strengthen the agency's argument that a lack of such protocol is in fact a disservice to child victims of abuse and/or neglect.
At the same time, as welcome and as potent as would be the voices of survivors of abuse, we must also consider the delicate nature of what many of our clients have been through and ask ourselves whether their speaking publicly about the abuse and/or neglect they have suffered can be traumatic. I do believe that there are some former, or even current, clients that would be willing to overcome their hesitation in an effort to ensure that future victims will not have to go through what they have. Furthermore I believe that it would be empowering for former and/or current clients to represent a stakeholder position in regards to the passage of the VACA of 2009. This empowerment would not only be beneficial to the clients themselves, but would be a compelling source of influence over other groups that may be touched by such personal witnessing towards the need to advocate on behalf of changes within the Child Welfare System.
There are also, of course, the caseworkers themselves. However, our agency's experience is that they are not inclined to want to bring about the kind of large-scale change that is needed and are quite often more interested in protecting themselves and not the children. Thus their voices must not be allowed to over-rule those of the other stakeholders here, as has so often been the case.
Brems, C. et al. (2008). Exploring differences in caseloads of rural and urban healthcare providers in Alaska and New Mexico. Public health 30(4): 37-62.
Cheung, K. (1997). Developing the interview protocol for video-recorded child sexual abuse investigations. Child abuse and neglect 21(3): 273-284.
Conrad, D., Ellis, J., & Ellett, a. (2006). Compassion fatigue, burnout, and compassion satisfaction among Colorado child protection workers.
Administration in social work, 30(4): 37-62.
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National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System. Child Maltreatment 2007. Retrieved 16