Our point of view: reforming the child welfare system is only part of the answer

The deaths of five children, all aged 4 or under, just weeks apart in June again sparked close scrutiny from Maine’s child welfare system, just as it did a year ago. three years after the deaths of Kendall Chick and Marissa Kennedy, just like he did. following the death of Logan Marr in 2001.

Logan marr Courtesy photo

Each of these times, there was a desire to believe that if someone in a position of authority had just made better decisions, a child would still be alive, and that if child protection workers were. simply better at their work, children would be spared abuse and neglect.

If only it was true.

While there is no doubt that the Maine Department of Health and Human Services Office of Family and Child Services is in need of reform as well as additional tools and resources, the emphasis cannot be put only on this organism.

The problem is much bigger. To get there, we need to ask ourselves bigger questions: why are so many children at risk of abuse and neglect, and why are so many parents ill-prepared and overwhelmed?

THE SYSTEM NEEDS REFORM

A new review of child protection services attempts to put the agency’s problems in context. The deaths of children who had contact with the state were not the result of poor individual decisions, the report says.

Instead, case workers were making choices within a complex and overburdened system, with the best information available at the time, however limited and incomplete.

Kendall chick

It does not unlock the system. But this means that any reform must aim to provide the right people with the right information at the right time as much as possible, and to provide enough time and space to use that information to make the right decisions for children at risk.

The state has been hiring and training new child protection staff for months now, as the agency tries to build the capacity to give each case the time and focus it needs.

In order to have a strong agency, the public must also show that they value work. We can’t help but pay higher wages to workers, if that’s what it takes.

And as stated in the Casey report, state officials also need to improve coordination and communication with their partners: hospitals, law enforcement and family service providers.

But even after they have accomplished all of this, child welfare services will still function in a society where too many families do not have the resources to live safe and healthy lives, and where too many parents are too many. busy, stressed or distracted by their own. challenges to be who they should be.

FAMILIES NEED SUPPORT

These challenges manifest themselves in several ways. One example is the growing number of children starting school far behind where they should be, the result of too little attention at home from parents in a hurry, stressed or overwhelmed. These students start late and mostly stay late, making academic success difficult.

Their problems are linked to poverty. Students lack food and sleep. They live in dangerous, overcrowded or unstable housing. Family members work irregular hours at unsatisfactory jobs and many live with chronic illness.

These are not the conditions that create successful children. Fortunately, we are not powerless to change them.

Marissa kennedy

When food aid was increased and expanded recently, families were lifted out of poverty and some of the stress that came with it was relieved. Ditto for the child tax credits adopted as part of the American Rescue Plan and extended as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan.

Investments in affordable housing, preschool and child care, also included in the president’s plan, also directly support young families, giving them the leeway they need to build their lives.

These investments will come in handy not only in Maine, but across the country, where the pressures of poverty affect children the same way they do here, causing the same kinds of problems.

We all want a child welfare system so good that no child dies and every child who suffers from abuse or neglect is found and helped. But this system does not exist.

Certainly, Maine’s most vulnerable children need a strong agency to protect them when their families don’t.

But their families also need resources to lead stable lives, and children need to see that their communities value them enough to provide them.


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