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Saturday, August 10, 2013

Child protection industry conspiracy

Having your parental rights to a child terminated must be a traumatic experience. Whether the parent has intentionally abused a child, suffered from serious mental health issues or intractable addictions, there is a permanent hole in the parent's life when a child is lost to them. Even parents who have children removed on a temporary basis, still get up in the morning and see the place where the child used to sleep and feel the loss. Taking a child into care is a step that impacts all involved.

However, there is also a belief amongst some that child protection workers are somehow rewarded with removals and the subsequent adoption of children. Some theorists argue that funding formulas, such as those in the USA, support states taking children into care as opposed to leaving children in families and then trying to improve the family situation.

An example of this thinking can be found in a YouTube video Documentary on the Child Protection Industry. It is not that well done, but it certainly illustrates the thinking.

Critics are able to point to some high profile cases where child protection really did get it wrong. An example is the death of Logan Marr. She was placed in foster care. The foster mother, who was also a former child protection worker, was subsequently convicted of killing Logan. The PBS program Frontline has done a documentary on the case.

Logan Marr

There are many other cases where errors have led to high profile media reports. Like any system, a child protection system is going to get it wrong at times. The challenge of course, is that the price of errors can be high. At the same time, little pubic attention is given to the multitude of cases where things go well and sometimes, brilliantly. Little media time is given to the child who is alive and well today because of CPS interventions.

Child protection workers are constantly walking the line between protecting a child and preserving a family unit. Most child protection legislation seeks to have this balance tip towards family preservation. The appropriate standard for a parent to keep raising the child is not perfection or even being close to it. The standard is good enough.

As my colleague Sandra Engstrom and I are noting in an article we are preparing for publication:

Budd, Clark & Connell (2011) identiCied three domains that they concluded formed elements of minimally adequate parenting. These include:
  • meeting the physical needs of the child including the provision of a stable and safe home environment as well as meeting such things as medical and dental needs;
  • providing for the cognitive and developmental needs; and
  • addressing and responding to emotional needs including affection and sensitivity, appropriate discipline in order to promote positive behavior (p. 105).
 These same authors also suggest that issues of fit between parent and child form part of minimal parenting capacity. These include child factors such as the developmental stage of the child and the presence of any special needs. Can the parents meet both the needs of the child as well as their own needs? These authors further note that environmental considerations come into play such as culture, socioeconomic status and interpersonal stressors (p. 105). 
However, to suggest that child protection workers, in general, seek to remove children in order to meet the needs of adopting parents, as the above noted documentary suggests, is not supported in any credible research I have been able to find. No doubt, there are some outlier cases where this may appear to have occurred, but there simply is not the evidence to suggest that this is a goal of child protection. Yet, those who have been affected by CPS can well feel aggrieved and seek to shift blame.

My research focuses on child protection errors - cases where they indeed got it wrong and children have suffered. Yes, there are definitely cases of practice errors - Logan Marr is one of those cases. Many errors occur, however, due to systemic problems such as high case loads and insufficient funding of CPS and the intervention systems that can help families.

Social work needs to keep working on the practice errors. Like any system, engineering, aviation, medicine, the profession must learn from its errors. That is essential.

Allegations of conspiracy to take children in order to support adoptions as well as the employment of social workers and other allied mental health professions does little to advance an understanding of the errors. Yet, within their criticisms can be found some powerful areas for discussion as well as an understanding of the deep pain that parents feel who lose their children.


  1. All you need to do is look at the Federal Adoption Act where the State agency and adoptive receive money from the Federal Government to remove children, terminate parental rights, and increase adoption rates. This is happening to disabled parents with learning disabilities. Its wrong! Federally there needs to be an investigation.

    1. Linda- I’m curious how you believe this federal money goes from Washington to a caseworker? The federal funds are needed to see to it that a child removed from the home has the resources they need to recover from the process. Additional funds are needed to reunite the family. The caseworkers don’t see a dime of extra money if they remove 100 children, or if they don’t remove any at all. There are plenty of parents with all kinds of special needs raising their children and doing a good job of it. A child should not be forced to stay in the home of a parent who can’t raise them because that parent has some sort of special need.

  2. You may well wish to watch the BBC documentary noted below which shows that states like Texas are benefiting from federal money by keeping children in families. They have the lowest child removal rate in the USA and, by comparison, the highest child death rate from abuse.