Is there a MinimalStandard of Care?
Washington State CASA ConferenceSpokane,WashingtonNovember 3, 2018Presented by: Dee Wilson
A minimal standard of care?
1. Parent advocates and child welfare practitioners periodically ask about a minimal standard of care for families with open CPS cases, or families with children in foster care, possibly because they believe that caseworkers are applying unreasonable parenting standards to low income families.
There is surprisingly little child welfare scholarship on the subject and little or no case law, at least in Washington State.
The Influence of Bias
The lack of clearly articulated standards invites exercises of personal biases that may be compounded by ignorance of cultural practices outside the American mainstream.
Intuition and Conviction
Bias often works in conjunction with intuition and so is accompanied by a feeling of subjective certainty.
Child Welfare Practice
Mandated reporters, child welfare practitioners and courts do more than apply unambiguous laws and policies; they also determine the meaning of statutes with vague or abstract definitions of child abuse and neglect through day in day out decision making and interactions with one another.
The Dilemma forParent Advocates
One possible reason that parent advocates and child welfare agencies have not articulated minimal parenting standards is that any such standard is likely to raise – rather than lower – “on the ground” expectations of families with open child welfare cases, not in every case but on average.
Chronic Neglect and ChronicMaltreatment
Child welfare agencies tolerate chronic neglect and chronic maltreatment (i.e., neglect plus physical abuse or sexual abuse) to a remarkable degree.
The Lack of EffectiveInterventions
Child welfare agencies lack effective, time limited and affordable interventions for chronic neglect which does not create an immediate threat to child safety.
Any minimal standard of care likely to be accepted by most local communities cannot accept or endorse abusive or neglectful parenting, no matter how low level or ‘low risk’.
Parenting Standards in Low Income Neighborhoods
Some studies have found that residents of low income and/or minority neighborhoods have higher expectations of parents than child welfare agencies do.
Do the following examples meet a minimal standard of care?Babies and toddlers being cared for in institutional settings without primary caregivers for extended periods of time?Babies being raised by severely depressed mothers who provide adequate physical care, but little or no emotional warmth or nurturance?School age children living with their homeless parents in a wrecked car under a bridge?
Emotional Abuse and Neglect
Do the following examples meet a minimal standard of care?Children living in a home with frequent domestic violence, and the children have witnessed violence on numerous occasions?Children living with chronic and pervasive neglect (10-12 CPS referrals) when the children have not been physically injured due to neglect, and several CPS investigators have assessed the children as “not at risk of imminent harm.”Children living in a home in which psychological aggression, i.e., threats, intimidation, insults, humiliation, is common?
What happens when childrenare not receiving a minimal standard of care?
The judgment that the parental care children are receiving, or the conditions in which they are living, does not meet a minimal standard of care does not mean that placing children out of the home is the best child welfare response in every instance, or even that a child welfare response is required.
Use of Coercion in Child Protection
Gary Melton has written that in the U.S. child protection is often identified with “ a dramatic coercive act.” However, involuntary out-of-home placement is at the extreme end of a continuum of possible responses to unacceptable parenting practices. A range of options needs to be considered.
Foster Care and Legal Structure
Once children have been involuntarily placed out- of-the home and made legally dependent, issues related to a minimal standard of care are quite different.
Social Class and Child Welfare Decision Making
When children are placed with middle class or upper middle class foster families, caseworkers and courts must be on guard against the possibility that social class considerations may become an implicit or explicit factor in reunification decisions.
Poverty and Reunification
Several research studies have found that that parents’ limited incomes affect time to reunification and/or the likelihood of reunification due to lack of housing or homelessness.
It is another level of social injustice to terminate parental rights because a child would have greater educational and social opportunities growing up in a family with far greater economic resources than the birth parents’ family and/or extended family.
A Safety Standard forReunification Decisions
Any acceptable application of a minimal standard of care in dependency cases must connect such a standard to the requirement that “children are returned home when they are considered to be safe for the foreseeable future, not simply the next 24-48 hours.”(Morton andSalavitz, 2006)
Expectations for Parents
Consider the following expectations:Parents will be dependable in providing basic care, i.e., food, hygiene, supervision, medical/dental treatment as needed, supervision, protection from danger or dangerous persons, to a reasonable degree.Children will be safe from physical abuse, sexual abuse or from repeated doses of psychological aggression in the family home.Parents will provide children with emotional warmth and encouragement.Children will receive stimulation and education necessary for normal development.Parents will provide children with moral guidance and reasonable discipline.
Substance abuse, mentalhealth conditions and familyviolence
This standard does not require that homes be free of substance abuse, mental health problems or even family violence, as desirable as it would be for children to grow up in homes without these adversities.
Poverty and child welfaredecision making
This standard does not require that children live in decent housing and safe neighborhoods, attend good schools or have a wealth of opportunities to develop their talents.
Child welfare standards cannot be higher than societal standards
If local, state and federal governments will not make commitments to achieving these conditions, low income families should not be held accountable to these standards, as reasonable and humane as they may seem.
Emotional Maltreatment should receive greater consideration
Parenting of children that is free of abuse and neglect has both physical and emotional components.
What is child safety?
The meaning of child safety in child welfare agencies and in juvenile court settings cannot reasonably be limited to physical safety, and ‘unsafe’ should mean something more than “absence of physical danger.”
Nurturance, i.e., emotionally responsive interactions with children, is an essential part of parenting.
Minimally adequate parenting includes nurturance, acceptance, stimulation, education (including moral education), and absence of a steady diet of psychological aggression.
The Nurturing Environment
Issues related to nurturance, emotionally responsive parenting, children’s social development (not just their mental health problems) should be important considerations in child protection and in juvenile court settings.
Child safety and child well being
Child safety and child well being are intimately related in child welfare instead of occupying separate conceptual domains.
Jones, Loring, “The Social and Family Correlates of Successful Reunification of Children in Foster Care,”Children and Youth Services Review, Volume 20, #4, 1998.Morton, Thomas and Salovitz, Barry, “Evolving a theoretical model of child safety in maltreating families,”Child Abuse and Neglect, Volume 30, #12, December 2006.Wells, Kathleen andGuo, Shenyang, “Reunification of Children Before and After Welfare Reform,”Social Service Review , March 2004.