State Representative John Mizuno will be holding an Informational Briefing on the topic of Child Welfare Services (better known as CPS or Child Protective Services) that’s open to the public on THURSDAY, September 22nd at 3:30pm in State Capitol Conference Room 329. http://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/session2011/hearingnotices/HEARING_HUS_09-22-11_INFO_.HTM The public is welcome to listen in on the briefing or if anyone has direct knowledge or concerns about child abuse and neglect – especially solutions or suggestions – please do come.
Headlines like today’s front page Honolulu Star Advertiser story “State Unable To Give Count of Children Who Die in Foster Care” call sharp critical attention to Hawaii’s Child Protective Services agency (aka Child Welfare Services, the Department of Human Services) but as someone who was trained by CPS in New York, my heart gets torn between what I learned and what I see/know to be happening.
If the work is done in the way it was intended, CPS work is actually a joy – which DOESN’T mean not stressful – but there’s more success then failure. Initially, you go “into” the family: you learn all you possibly can about them – their culture, their beliefs, their values, their history and that’s where you start – by learning the context that you’ll be working in and for each family, it’s completely different – each case is a totally new “ball of wax”.
There are certain non-negotiables to work around (like the state and federal laws, court orders, charges, etc.) but if these were completely explained to and understood by the family you’d be working with in the spirit of creating a partnership, you’d be off to a better start (as opposed to going in confrontationally, authoritatively or defensively). I was told to emphasize the Services part of CPS and when you got right down to it, you (as the worker) and the parent/s would actually realize you had the same goal: to protect the child/ren from further harm!
There were several things I was reminded about (quite often) about the work that I did back then; I was told to always be respectful, aware and mindful that I was going into someone’s home and that I was not catching the family “at their best” – much like unexpected company when you have the flu. I was to identify “risk factors” but that information was NOT intended for prosecution (or persecution) but rather to find out what the family needed in order to help remove/eliminate the stressors that contributed to the child abuse.
At the time, our “pendulum” was at the “family preservation” end of the spectrum (vs. the foster care removal end) and here’s why the “pendulum” would swing: research showed us that if children were removed from their families and put into foster care that certain maladies occurred such as RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) http://www.bing.com/health/article/mayo-MADS00988/Reactive-attachment-disorder?q=reactive+attachment+disorder so the “pendulum” would be at the “family preservation” end until there’d be a horrible tragedy such as a child who should have been removed who wasn’t (due to the family preservation model) and injury or death occurred – then the “pendulum” would swing to the “better safe than sorry”/remove to foster care side.
Trying to determine the best course of action against the backdrop of circumstances and policy has always been the internal CPS struggle, but CPS had tried to come up with solutions like the policy to find family, kin or friends first before turning to non-relative foster care placements. In Hawaii, we actually have gone a step better in fostering a CPS-family partnership with Ohana Conferencing http://www.epicohana.info/ but all of what I’m describing was meant for “strict child abuse cases” – NOT for domestic violence/CPS overlap cases.
Once again, research showed us that in about ½ of CPS cases, the mother was also being abused = domestic violence. In 1999, The Greenbook Initiative http://www.thegreenbook.info/index.htm was published addressing the specific and unique circumstances of DV/CPS overlap cases and how to treat them, so GREAT problem solved right? WRONG! What happened? Lack of implementation.
10 YEARS later in 2009, then Acting Director of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/ Catherine Pierce, had the following to say about the disturbing trend of domestic violence survivors losing custody of their children through the family court and/or child protective services systems:
The complicated issue of child custody presents another challenge involving the intersection of children and domestic violence. Battered women losing custody of their children is a serious and growing problem. In August of 2008, OVW convened a Roundtable Discussion on Custody and Domestic Violence with experts and practitioners to inform OVW about how battered women are losing custody of their children to either the perpetrators (through Family Court) or to the State (through Child Protective Services). As a result of the Roundtable Discussion, OVW will be supporting a variety of projects: training for attorneys and judges; increased access to legal representation for victims of domestic violence; training for custody evaluators; the development of easily accessible resources and tools that will assist judges and others in making informed decisions around custody; and increased public awareness about how children are being placed in the custody of batterers and how that is affecting those children. OVW will also increase collaboration with HHS (the US Department of Health and Human Services) to assist in developing better domestic violence practices for the child protection system.
I believe that “failure is not an option”; we have “all the parts”, we even have an “instruction manual” – now we just need to get around to putting the puzzle all together TOGETHER. Please join us tomorrow if you can ~