Child Abuse and Child Protection

A topical collection in Social Sciences (ISSN 2076-0760). This collection belongs to the section "Childhood and Youth Studies".

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Editor


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Guest Editor
Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminology, Windsor, ON N9B 3P4, Canada
Interests: child abuse; child homicide; child protection

Topical Collection Information

Dear Colleagues,

Over the past fifty years or so, child welfare—and specifically, child protection—has come under intense scrutiny from a variety of groups. The press has been a major source of criticism of child welfare organizations and has, therefore, raised public awareness about various scandals and “failures” with respect to the protection and welfare of children. Press criticism tends to bifurcate along the lines of identifying individual failures (social workers, medical practitioners, named senior bureaucrats and political figures) or identifying “systemic” failures.

Press criticism also provides opportunities for various non-governmental or philanthropic organizations to advance their own critiques and philosophies. Often these critiques bifurcate over whether there is too much, or too little, government intervention into citizen’s private lives. It is symptomatic of these critiques that they tend to argue there are either too many, or too few, children in government care.

Within governments themselves, there has been a veritable avalanche of inquiries, policy reviews, blueprints, research into “what works”, experiments with standing or ad hoc formal reviews and audits (both internal and external), and assorted other initiatives, each hoping to untie the Gordian knot of child welfare and, particularly, child protection. Here, too, we find a binary as emphases oscillate between contemporary issues and historical events and legacies, which seems to belie the oft claimed benefit that historical inquiries ensure past abuses and mistakes will not be repeated in the present.

As well, developments in identity politics over the last several decades have complicated the more traditional debates about whether child abuse is caused by private pathology or class conditions. The collaborationist role of child welfare and child protection in the assimilation of marginalized groups, races, political movements, and ethnicities, while still contested by some, is now a generally accepted truth. In my own country of Canada, for example, the legacy of Residential Schools and the “Sixties Scoop” are a constant shadow over every public policy decision from pipeline construction to the choice of appropriate welcoming remarks when opening a meeting.

Lastly, the past fifty years or so have brought about a transformation of the way children are thought about. Both jurisprudence and academia now count children as active agents who create their own subjectivities and bear their own specific rights. The problem of how to incorporate children’s voices and opinions into traditional notions such as “best interests of the child” remains a fraught project. This is a widespread difficulty, but it is especially sharp in child protection work because it potentially means adults no longer have a monopoly on defining and deciding what constitutes acceptable levels of risk.

Despite all this effort, children are still entering state care. Across the English-speaking world (which is the world I’m familiar with), and allowing for periodic fluctuations, the number of children in care is at best static and, in most jurisdictions, continues to increase. This raises two important questions. First, after all the effort over the past fifty years, we should expect fewer children in government care as a result of systemic and practice improvements. Is this lack of progress a case of failure, or is it that (as Ian Hacking pointed out thirty years ago) more things count as child abuse now than did in the past? Is this too much government? Or does it reflect how the dominance of neoliberal policies demanding self-responsibility has left families with too much responsibility but too few resources. Is this, then, too little government?

Secondly, if the numbers of children entering care are going to continue to rise—or at least stay the same—where are these children going to live? Since the beginning of the twentieth century, institutional care has been effectively driven from the list of options. If the concerns of early reformers about the lethargic, dependent, and dull children large institutions allegedly produced weren’t enough, the revelations of recent inquiries about historical abuse have ensured that the word “institution” is exorcised from child welfare. Institutional care has been replaced, of course, with foster care, but even from its earliest appearance as “boarding out”, foster care has had its critics. In the contemporary Canadian experience, for example, fostering has been rocked by scandals pertaining to children being killed by relatives in kinship homes, the high incidence of homelessness and hotel placements of youth, and the persistent problem of placement instability.

Too often these two questions are treated as independent of each other. However, this is at best wishful thinking. The Gove Inquiry into child protection in British Columbia, Canada, for example, contained testimony from children in care who stated flatly that entry into care depended as much, if not more, on the availability of resources as it did on the severity of abuse. These youth knew the score. That same review received testimony from social workers who stated equally flatly that they simply didn’t have the residential resources to cope with the children they were encountering. Significantly, neither of these themes were present in the Inquiry’s final report. Indeed, the issue of finding adequate homes for children in care is generally given short shrift, even by those inquiries that seem eager to dramatically increase the number of children in government care as a result of “child-centered” practice and safeguarding rhetoric.

This collection of papers will examine these linked problems from both a pragmatic and theoretical perspective. Why is it, despite spending enormous amounts of time and treasure on the problem, children still enter care in high numbers, and why is the system that receives them apparently so inadequate? This is not an exercise in locating blame; we assume that if practical and ethical solutions could be had, the army of child welfare professionals engaged in the work would have implemented them. Instead, this issue assumes child welfare and child protection are composed of a series of wicked problems that collectively create a perpetually “failing” system. If this assumption is correct, then the problem is not one of finding solutions, but of learning how to adapt to the realities of wicked circumstances.

Dr. Gerald Cradock
Guest Editor

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Published Papers (4 papers)

2024

Jump to: 2022, 2021

16 pages, 288 KiB  
Article
Reconsidering Recognition in the Lives of Children and Young People in Care: Insights from the Mockingbird Family in South Australia
by Emi Patmisari, Helen McLaren and Michelle Jones
Soc. Sci. 2024, 13(2), 81; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci13020081 - 28 Jan 2024
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 1291
Abstract
This study explored the experiences of children and young people in the Mockingbird Family, South Australia, during implementation and roll-out. The study involved semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of 54 participants, including 21 children and young people, 12 foster carers, and 14 [...] Read more.
This study explored the experiences of children and young people in the Mockingbird Family, South Australia, during implementation and roll-out. The study involved semi-structured interviews with a diverse group of 54 participants, including 21 children and young people, 12 foster carers, and 14 agency workers. Thematic analysis, with the application of Axel Honneth’s recognition theory, showed the Mockingbird Family model to validate the emotional, cognitive, and social support needs of children and young people. Through interconnected experience, the nurturing of care and the promotion of rights-based, holistic approaches were crucial for achieving social recognition, dignity, and developmental growth. The study indicates the potential benefits of the Mockingbird Family model for addressing the needs of children and young people in care. The research suggests that a community-based support model such as the Mockingbird Family should be considered in child welfare practices. However, further research is necessary to fully understand the model’s long-term effects and justify its integration into wider child welfare policies. Full article

2022

Jump to: 2024, 2021

24 pages, 3231 KiB  
Review
How Are Leadership Programs Empowering Our Vulnerable Children and Youth? A Scoping Review
by Kirsty Bastable, Paul Cooke, Lou Harvey, Victoria Olarte, Jodi Zimmerman and Shakila Dada
Soc. Sci. 2023, 12(1), 2; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci12010002 - 20 Dec 2022
Cited by 1 | Viewed by 2485
Abstract
Globally vulnerable populations are negatively impacted by policy and practice. For vulnerable youth, risks to growth, development, and a lack of participation in decisions about their lives are common. Leadership programs are frequently implemented to address the risks faced by vulnerable youth. This [...] Read more.
Globally vulnerable populations are negatively impacted by policy and practice. For vulnerable youth, risks to growth, development, and a lack of participation in decisions about their lives are common. Leadership programs are frequently implemented to address the risks faced by vulnerable youth. This review sought to describe the goals, content, and outcomes of existing youth development programs to better understand if they are meeting the needs of vulnerable youth. A scoping review was conducted using the PRISMA-ScR methodology. Ten electronic databases and grey literature were searched. A total of 89 youth development programs were identified. The goals, content, and outcomes of the programs were thematically analyzed. Four foci emerged, namely, youth, relationship, community, and social justice-focused development. A youth focus was most commonly represented, and the social justice focus was the least represented. Most programs addressed only one focus area. If youth development programs are to provide youth with both the skills to engage with and opportunities to change their circumstances, then all four focus areas need to be included. Secondly, a need for the active involvement of youth in both the planning and implementation of programs was identified. Finally, safeguarding needs to be highlighted in any program working with vulnerable youth. Full article
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2021

Jump to: 2024, 2022

18 pages, 721 KiB  
Review
Are Working Children in Developing Countries Hidden Victims of Pandemics?
by Polyxeni Kechagia and Theodore Metaxas
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(9), 321; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10090321 - 24 Aug 2021
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 6646
Abstract
The consequences of the recent pandemic have been disproportionately disruptive to several social groups, including children. As developing economies have been firefighting the recent pandemic, the welfare of minors could be affected and children’s economic exploitation and abuse could increase. Therefore, the present [...] Read more.
The consequences of the recent pandemic have been disproportionately disruptive to several social groups, including children. As developing economies have been firefighting the recent pandemic, the welfare of minors could be affected and children’s economic exploitation and abuse could increase. Therefore, the present research aims to shed light on and to investigate the association between child labour in developing countries and pandemics, including the coronavirus, through conducting a systematic literature review on previous empirical studies. The present research concludes that previous studies on non-COVID-19 pandemics have mainly focused on the African economies, while studies on the recent pandemic have focused on Asian countries. In addition, differences were observed in relation to the methodological approaches and the characteristics of minor employees and the protection services in certain countries have proven to be insufficient. Suggestions for future research and policy implications are presented. Full article
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20 pages, 280 KiB  
Article
Working for the Welfare: Support and Supervision Needs of Indigenous Australian Child Protection Practitioners
by Fiona Oates and Kaylene Malthouse
Soc. Sci. 2021, 10(8), 277; https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci10080277 - 21 Jul 2021
Viewed by 3630
Abstract
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately represented in all parts of the child protection system in Australia. The recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners into child protection systems to work with Indigenous families at risk underpins the government strategy [...] Read more.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately represented in all parts of the child protection system in Australia. The recruitment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practitioners into child protection systems to work with Indigenous families at risk underpins the government strategy to reduce this over-representation. However, little is known about the experiences of Indigenous people who undertake child protection work or what their support and supervision needs may be. This research is centered on Indigenous Australian child protection practitioners as experts in their own experiences and as such includes large excerpts of their own narratives throughout. Practitioner narratives were collected via qualitative semi-structured in-depth interviews. Critical theory and decolonising frameworks underpinned the research design. The study found that Indigenous child protection practitioners have a unique place in the families, communities and profession. Many viewed their work in the child protection field as an extension of their Indigeneity. This coupled with the historical experience of state-sanctioned removal of Indigenous children during colonisation and contemporarily, informs the need for child protection workplaces to re-think the support and supervision afforded to Indigenous practitioners. Full article
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