Before we can get down to the complex task of reforming the child protection system, deciding exactly what is to be reformed is a necessary step. First and perhaps foremost, there is no child protection system. To call what exists a system implies a significant degree of integration and interdependence among the various elements comprising child protection. There are components and focal areas that might appropriately be thought of as systems. These include individual local agencies or local branches of state departments, specific programs within state or regional units, or programs or service units that work together in a somewhat integrated way. What is usually referred to as the child protection system is more appropriately described as an aggregation in the sense of many separate but more or less related things being grouped together, mostly for convenient reference. Our first challenge is, then, to figure out how we are going to go about reforming an aggregation.
In most states, child protection is aggregated under the auspices and administration of a state-level department responsible for the safety of abused and neglected children in the state. The responsibility is, in turn, delegated to various local and regional units and entities that function fairly independently from each other. In some states, there is a state-level department that provides auspices and supervision for local, county-level departments or agencies that are, in turn, responsible for the administration of programs and services and for the safety of abused and neglected children in the individual counties. Additionally, there are other child protection components responsible for specific child populations such as the children of individuals serving in the military and Native-American children living on federally designated reservations. Collectively, these components and their numerous sub-components are what is called the child protection system.
It is unarguably true many children are not protected and kept safe within this aggregation. It is equally true thousands of children are kept safe and are not further victimized by abusing and neglectful people within their environments. The challenge is to increase the proportion of children who are kept safe without jeopardizing the safety of those children who are successfully being kept out of harmís way. Achieving this outcome is at the essence of any efforts focusing on reforming child protection.