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Let the Judge Decide

April 27, 2010 permalink

Former social worker Walter was advised during his career to take children into care in all marginal cases. "Let the judge decide" was the mantra. The letter was posted to Glenn Sacks' blog by Robert Franklin.

In a system driven by the incentives of bureaucracy, child protection agencies benefit financially by taking as many children as possible into their care. Social workers as a rule do not share in the bounty. Instead, management promotes a set of beliefs in the social workers that suit its goals. Walter's writing is an example of the views promoted in his agency.



Letter to the Editor: 'Defensive social work... has little to do with child protection'

This letter is in response to the blog post entitled "Part II: Erring on the side of hidden harm."

For 13 years I worked for one of the largest child protective agencies in the US. Throughout that time, our director had a favorite saying which became the mantra for the department, "err on the side of protecting children." Obviously this is quite similar to the phrase used in your article and to Paul Chill's concept of "defensive social work." I used to cringe whenever I heard it. I cringed because I knew that it really meant that I should be the one to abuse children. I was well aware of the emotional harm that comes from removing a child from its parents, even abusive parents. This harm needs to be weighed against the harm from the actual abuse by the parents. In cases of error, there is no harm from actual abuse, therefore the state (and social worker) becomes the abuser.

The error is committed for precisely the reason you outline in your article. It protects the department (and social worker) from lawsuits and bad press. It has little to do with child protection. Our director attended a staff meeting where I was able to point this out. "Let the judge decide" was the answer and when I pointed out that the harm would already have been done, it was strongly suggested that I find another line of work. No one wanted to discuss the "hidden harm" the department was causing to children and their families.

I can't tell you how many times I was handed an allegation to investigate and told by my supervisor to "detain" the children. Each and every time I had to remind her (or him as I had more than one supervisor) that I would need to investigate first. In nearly every instance that this occurred, the allegations were either false or not nearly as severe as the allegation stated. Most of the allegations I received were the result of custody disputes and most of those were made by the mother against the father and the vast majority were denied by the children and had no corroborating evidence. Department policy required medical examinations for allegations of physical and sexual abuse. As a result, many children were put through invasive medical examinations based solely on the word of one parent. Of course that parent was never held accountable.

I can only state that I am quite happy to no longer be a part of the system. Thank you for your article. I had never before heard of Paul Chill or of defensive social work, but will certainly have to find out more.

- Walter

Source: Glenn Sacks blog