In my view, our child protection system is fundamentally flawed, and we need to develop a new system, based on clearly-articulated principles. I want to comment on two of them.
The child protection system we develop must start with the child and the child's needs; it must value the child as a person. This is often referred to as being "child-centred." The services we provide to children, and the administrative structures we develop to provide those services, must meet children's needs.
There are many ways to meet the needs of children. Often, this is best done by helping families to care safely for their children; a parental support model can be a valuable intervention strategy in protecting needy children and youth. However, if a family cannot take on the responsibility of caring safely for its children, then it is up to the child welfare system to take whatever steps are necessary to protect them. In Matthew's Story, the worst fault did not lie in attempting to help Matthew's mother, but in ignoring Matthew. In a truly child-centred protection system, when asked for whom they worked, staff would answer: "For the child."
The second principle is coordination. At present, child protection is viewed as separate from the larger issue of child welfare. Child protection social workers are called in to protect children at a point of crisis. Meanwhile, other parts of the child-serving community -- health, education, child care, justice services and others -- are not connected either to each other or to the child protection social workers, the very people who have a legal mandate to protect children.
In Designing a New Child Welfare System, I start with a discussion of the values which should underlie, and the principles which should guide the development of a new child welfare system. Next, I discuss the main structural elements of the proposed new system. Finally, I comment on making the transition from the old to the new, and what interim reforms are essential.
I have no illusions about how difficult this reform process will be. I have tried to determine why nothing has changed despite previous calls for fundamental reform and the seemingly clear evidence that our expensive, uncoordinated systems are not doing a very good job of protecting children like Matthew. The only conclusion that I can draw is that it is difficult to restructure bureaucratic organizations.
A major challenge to the change that I recommend is overcoming that difficulty. This will take strong leadership.