I spent a day this week in a technical assistance session hosted by Casey Family Programs. The participants were representatives from Maryland’s state and local child welfare agencies. I was invited because family support and child care are key to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. The group is working on what’s called the IV-E Waiver: developing new approaches to reducing child maltreatment by shifting the use of federal funds from mostly treatment to predominantly prevention services. At this stage of the state’s IV-E planning process, local Departments of Social Services are preparing to write concept papers that outline their proposed approaches. Several of the plans will be selected to receive about $8.9 million annually in waiver dollars.
Admittedly an outsider to the child welfare system, I find our approach to child protection utterly perverse. When it’s likely a child has been abused or neglected, we begin to “throw money” at the problem – investigating the possible crime, initiating home visits, removing the child from his or her home, finding a temporary new home in foster care or a group setting, giving parents and children various forms of therapy including drugs and counseling, pursuing termination of parental rights in court, and so on. Up until the authorities receive a report of abuse or neglect, we do very little to support parents – each of us is on her own.
With a very clear focus on the goal – keeping children safe and happy in their own homes – and a willingness to explore any and all options without cynicism (e.g. “we tried that and it didn’t work” or “the feds won’t let us spend their money that way,” or “the secretary/governor/legislature won’t approve that,”) we can make a mostly broken system work better for children and their families. If we do so, it will be because we have a variety of prevention and early intervention programs from the start – beginning before pregnancy – for all families.