While the work of a Cleveland Ohio panel looking into a series of deaths in families is not yet done, their preliminary work is suggesting a pattern that has become all too familiar in death reviews. However, one of the more interesting is that the county child protection agency seems to lack a sense of urgency about cases. The basis for that conclusion is not yet known but they appear to point to workers being more oriented to solving immediate safety concerns rather than focusing on the long term issues such as mental health, addictions and domestic violence.
The panel also talks about something that has been seen far too often and has become a feature of social work in too many cases - cookie cutter case plans. These can include sending parents off to parenting classes - the majority of which research tells us do not create any lasting change.
One of the goals of the panel is to see how children can be returned to parents more often. Yet, a weakness in child protection is raised in this work - how long do you stay involved? How can you know whether the parent can stay sober? Will the parent keep taking the medication for their mental health? Can the parent stay out of a violent relationship? In reality, there is only so far that a child protection system can go. There is a point where resources need to be allocated elsewhere and there is hope that parents will stay connected to the systems that have helped during CPS involvement.
Are there ways to better monitor after CPS cases are closed so that the revolving door of entering, leaving and re-entering foster care can be stopped? This is a core question that can be hard to solve when a weak economy is putting more pressure on families and the services they need are seeing year over year budget cuts. Those very services that can help keep families functioning are in jeopardy financially and so are CPS budgets. More families will have fewer supports at times when the stresses arising from the weak economy grow. The recipe for more children to fall between the cracks is there. More children will suffer because we, as a society, are not prepared to really solve the problems and pay for good child protection - one that solves rather than offers band aids.