Child Protective Services: The Good and the Bad

mother with her child

Children are the most vulnerable members of society. Thus, adults have the responsibility of protecting them. The state should make sure their basic needs are fulfilled, from food to a safe home.

Sometimes, children are born into this world in the most heartbreaking ways. They could be unwanted, left to die in the trash, or left on the streets to fend for themselves. Frustrated parents who do not have the means may keep their children but deprive them of love and care.

In these instances, the Child Protective Services (CPS) find their purpose. For children in need of a family, CPS provides them a roof. Nonetheless, like any other system, CPS is not fail-proof. Though with good intent, the system can fail due to bad timing and misreading of a family’s case.

How the Child Welfare System Works

The system is composed of multiple entities, from organizations and services. They work together to promote the well-being of children by ensuring safe and permanent homes for them. It involves strong coordination between government agencies that have the funds and the private entities that find the cases. Public agencies (e.g. social services), with the help of private child welfare agencies and community organizations, extend their assistance through housing projects, abuse counseling, and other programs.

The process is not as simple as it sounds and requires specialized knowledge, from law to human behavior. Besides volunteers, service groups benefit from hiring family law attorneys, psychiatrists, and other professionals to ensure each case is settled without issues.

How Someone Could Get Reported to CPS

Parents or guardians are investigated by CPS after a “child maltreatment” report. Under the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), child maltreatment is serious harm to children by parents or primary caregivers. This includes neglect and all forms of abuse, from physical, sexual, to emotional.

When a guardian allows harm upon a child or does nothing to prevent it, CAPTA also counts it as child maltreatment.

Advantages: Successful Stories

CPS can prevent tragedies from happening. Every year, child abuse happens to 700,000 children in America. In 2019, authorities received about 4.4 million reports, which were then subject to proper investigation. Abused children were successfully taken from their guardians and away from a possible injury or death.

Approximately 80% of children in foster care have serious mental health issues, often due to an abusive parent. Child Advocacy Centers (CPCs) report that two-thirds of all their cases involve sexual abuse. By giving these children care as early as possible, their cognitive and emotional imbalance may still be corrected.

man holding his daughter

Disadvantages: Wrongful Separations

Sometimes, unfortunate circumstances look like a case from afar when it actually isn’t. Unaware they’re doing more harm than good, CPS may pursue the parents in blind fervor.

In Houston, a bad fall made it seem like Melisa and Dillon Bright were abusive parents. It was a July afternoon, and Melisa was alone with the kids, who were playing by the sprinkler. Her five-year-old, Mason, was on a camping chair. Melisa only turned her head for a second to wrangle her two-year-old’s wet clothes. Then she heard a thump. Mason hit her head on the concrete.

Melisa immediately carried him in panic, called her husband, then 911.

At the Texas Children’s Hospital, the medical team found multiple skull fractures and suspected a prior injury. They asked if the baby had fallen before, to which the Brights responded “no.”

The pediatrician was not convinced. In the report, Dr. Shangvi wrote that a single impact fall could not have caused the injuries. And so ensued the months-long battle of the Brights to keep their baby Mason.

Correcting the System’s Faults

Child Welfare Protection will always be vital for the community. Stories like the Brights’ should not stop them from helping children. Instead, these stories should motivate lawmakers and authorities to address the system’s faults.

After winning the court cases against CPS, the Brights advocated for changes in Texas’s child protection system. This called the attention of Texan lawmakers who proposed stronger safeguards against the unnecessary taking of children from their parents. Representative James Frank of the Texas House of Representatives noted the miscommunication that occurs in between. In most cases, the doctors are not even stating the presence of child abuse for a fact. They are merely concerned that it may be child abuse. “And so I don’t know [if] there are enough checks and balances to make sure that we have confirmed that it really is child abuse,” Rep. Frank said.

Handling Cases with Care

Despite the huge number of reports, CPS authorities should not allow themselves to succumb to oversight. Each family is different. Knowing each family better could prevent a case like the Brights’s.

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