On Child Abuse

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49 Responses

  1. Avatar Will Truman says:

    I mostly want to say that I very much like the post and really appreciate the last couple of paragraphs demonstrating that this is a complicated issue and not in which one side wants to protect children and the other side wants to let children suffer for ideological reasons.

    I have no easy answers. I have exposure, in a way, to each side of the discussion. I temped at a state CPS as we helped them relocate from one building to another. I got to know a lot of the people there. I overheard a lot of conversations. I got an idea of what they were often up against, both in the terrifying sense but also in the cloudy sense (by which I mean, credible accusations of abuse on the one side, but also a lot of time wasted by people with axes to grind).

    My coblogger on Hit Coffee is a family services lawyer who presents something of a different picture, and one in which the state really is intruding in places that it does not need to be intruding. And, more to the point, the state bullying those who cannot fight back (those too poor to represent themselves losing their children over things that they wouldn’t dream of even trying with parents who can).

    I fear what I read about coming out of Britain. Yet, at the same time, we have lots of horror stories here about a state’s failure to intervene.


  2. Avatar Patrick Cahalan says:

    This is why I could never be a police officer.Report

  3. Avatar greginak says:

    This is one of those areas that will always be messy and grey. Every CPS is going to miss some cases they should intervene in and get involved when they shouldn’t. I been heavily involved with two CPS orgs and often critical of both them. That being said being a CPS worker sucks. The front line workers are often entry level pro’s when they should really be much more experienced folks.

    Any sort of right direction towards better solutions involved social service programs, therapists, schools and constant skating on the knife edge of what is to much and to little.Report

  4. Avatar Jaybird says:

    is it possible to tackle this problem in a satisfactory way? Here I am not imagining a problem that makes it goes away; that will never happen. But is it even possible to make a dent in the problem itself?

    How to best address evil? It doesn’t strike me as something that, really, we’d be able to tackle on an institutional level. Parenting classes in the schools to help prevent this from happening before it starts? More commercials from the AD Council on the radio and on television and on the internet?

    Well, it’s not like the issue is one of “people don’t know to not do this.”

    I’m pretty sure that these things are things that people know, without having been told, that are pretty foundationally wrong.

    What’s the best way to punish people who do this sort of thing? What’s the best way to prevent it in the first place?

    If we agree that we shouldn’t kill the people who do this sort of thing, and we agree that fertility on their part is a Human Right, we’re stuck throwing them in prison (unless, for operational reasons, that’s not an option)… which leaves us with how to prevent it in the first place.

    Are there cultural things that can be relied upon to prevent this sort of thing, if we look at our governmental tools and see that they’re woefully inadequate?Report

    • Avatar mark boggs in reply to Jaybird says:

      Yeah, this whole piece illuminates the quandary as does your comment, Jaybird.  When reproduction is as easy as it is and irresponsible people reproduce, they are often irresponsible, if not downright cruel and horrible in the way they “raise” their offspring.

      And attempts at prevention start to tread dangerously close to mind-reading, guessing intent, extrapolating any incident into cause for all-out investigation.  And yet we’re forced to confront the shit that actually happens when parents go bad and wonder why we couldn’t have stopped it.


  5. Avatar Robert Cheeks says:

    In Ohio a person may make any allegation they want against any adult who is in a supervisory position with children (parent, grandparent, step-parent, etc.). By law the identity of the person making the allegation is not revealed. The accused is investigated and a case file generated by the child services bureaucracy which is kept open whether or not the accusations are found to be ‘substantiated’ or ‘non-substantiated.’The accused is brought into the agency office for an interview. The children in question are brought in to be interviewed, as is any other adults living in the house. The case worker assigned to the case visits the house. All of this is predicated on an accusation by a person that remains unknown to the accused, who may not sue for slander or calumny or make any effort to recover his/her good name at the risk of arrest.

    I’m all for protecting children. The law should deal  mercilessly on those who would injure or abuse children. Death by hanging for pedophilia and severe abuse is a just sentence. However, the law should never deprive any citizen his/her right to answer their accusers in open court and to seek redress.Report

    • Actually, most states have some variation of these kinds of laws.  And the resin they east, is the complaint comes from a child that is considered at risk.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

        Well the reason for secrecy over who made the complaint is not really about the child since they will be interviewed by the CPS workers and what they tell CPS is liable to be reported to the parents. The secrecy is more to protect all the other people who typically report abuse who are teachers, clergy, neighbors and other family. If a next door neighbor regularly hears a child being beaten they will only report if they think they have anonymity. Same with brothers and sister; do they want their, very other, drunk belligerent sibling in their face for reporting.


    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Robert Cheeks says:

      As Tod notes above, this is the regime in nearly every state. And the reason the Confrontation Clause isn’t in play is that CPS or its equivalent is not engaged in criminal law enforcement. Because there isn’t criminal law enforcement going on, also, the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold for deprivation of life, liberty, or property is not in play. The more relaxed preponderance of the evidence standard is.

      Don’t think for a second, either, that there aren’t people very willing to game the system and use it to their advantage, particualrly in family law situations. More accusations of child molestation come out of bitter divorces than any other source. (Citation needed, I know; my evidence and that of my colleagues is anecdotal.) It’s easy to get people all up in arms in the political arena because… well… Child molestors!

      In anonymous-reporter situations, there should be some sort of penalty for the making of a baseless accusation, one which not only reveals no substantial evidence of endangerment of a child, but which is a) made with malice towards the accused subject of the complaint, and b) causes a substantial diversion of resources that could have gone to the protection of a child actually at risk. The penalty should be substantial enough to deter the use of such agencies as a catspaw in pursuit of personal vendettas or seeking advantage in pending or contemplated family law cases.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I should have been more clear in structuring my elements for a false reporting sanction:

        1. No substantial evidence of endangerment;
        2. Malice to accused; and
        3. Substantially diverts resources.


        • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Burt Likko says:

          This will probably be a personal essay post some day, but years ago I was actually named by someone at my son’s school as a potential abuser.  We never found out who made the report.  We never knew why, since we actually erred on the non-spanking side of parenting – although our boy was a bit of a daredevil that had no fear, so we kind of assumed it might have to do with a string of cuts and bruises.  But there weren’t really that many of them, so who knows?

          It was a scary experience to wait to talk to a social worker, but neither my wife or I had a difficult time once the interview happened.  It was really pretty simple, and oddly affirming of our parenting style.

          In any system, you’re probably going to have to make a choice between erring on the side or incorrect reports (similar to what happened to us) or erring by almost never knowing until death or very serious injury.  I think the choice is obvious.  Call me a “statist” if you will, whoever, but I think there really is but one choice.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            Tod, you are also a well educated, financially comfortable two-parent household. It is entirely possible that the system would treat you differently if you were not these things. (Not due to above-board racial animosity on the part of the investigators, but rather due to more quiet prejudices and which assumptions they fill in potential blanks with.)

            I trust the child welfare system to treat my wife and I fairly. I would be a lot less trusting in other circumstances. (I’d also be a lot less trusting if I was a divorced dad.)

            Not to pick on Tod, but I think something that often gets overlooked here is that aggressive CPS monitoring will affect American families unevenly. Families that look and feel the right way, not only demographically but tangential things such as keeping a tidy household and whether or not they can tell that you would have the resources to fight back and fight back hard, are going to make a lot of difference here. I’d strongly suspect.Report

            • Avatar greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

              You are entirely correct that families that look the wrong way can get a wrong deal. FWIW, in my experience, divorced dads don’t in general get a raw deal at all. Times are changing for the better in some ways.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

                According to some sources, the courts haven’t been keeping up. Maybe the CPS is immune to this, but I would still be worried.


              • Avatar greginak in reply to Will Truman says:

                Sad article. Incompetence among my peers is extremely irritating. Things are getting better but they are far from where they should be. DV allegations are a massive problem that complicates everything. To many allegations are unfounded, to many allegations are true and there are bruised and beaten survivors. While many men suffer from stories like in the link I’ve seen women in similar situations.

                What is better now is that men often get equally shared custody schedules or large amounts of time as opposed to just a couple decades ago when 2 or 3 weekends a month was it. Old timers in the custody field literately can barely recognize how different things are with men doing so much better. But, custody battles are typically people at their worst.

                If you want to see viscous blood thirsty battles, which make most political debates look tame, read some Men’s Rights and/or DV advocates stuff. Both groups have some things correct and are defending true victims. But FSM in the sky, they bitterly hate each other and are blinded by it.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to greginak says:

                What bothers me about the article is that it suggests a systemic problem, rather than a sad case. You’re absolutely right about the presumption of join custody. And a great thing this is and a good improvement! Ironically, though, there’s an argument that it has potentially aggravated frivolous DV claims. When there is a threat of sharing custody, and she don’t want to, a woman might have to go further in assuming that she doesn’t have to. There’s no easy solution to this. Either you take every accusation dead-serious and do the sort of thing discussed in the article. Or you heighten evidenciary requirements and allow DV to continue. And because there is this trade-off, it unfortunately puts MRAs and DVA/feminists at odds. One side must be trying to put innocent men in jail. The other side must want women and children that are beaten to have no recourse.Report

              • Avatar Thatpirateguy in reply to Will Truman says:


                Behavior and comments such as the ones documented here really don’t help the MRAs. You see enough of it and you start to think they simply don’t like women.Report

          • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Tod Kelly says:

            I’m not going to disagree with you insofar as you say that a system must have robust protections for the good-faith reporter. Part of my point, though, is that such robust protections create an environment where abuse will occur.

            I believe what I’ve outlined as necessary elements to prove prior to imposition of a penalty would only apply in extreme cases.Report

        • Avatar Robert Cheeks in reply to Burt Likko says:

          Burt, we’re going to have to agree on this one. And, make the penalties at least financially severe, with any repetition expanding into jail time.

          Another point that Tod, I believe, hit on is the CPS agent. What if that person happens to be a deadhead apparatchik (I know they’re few in number but just suppose?)? Now, the accused is in some real shit because now you’re dealing with a moron and these people retain the ‘case’ throughout the proceedings.Report

      • Avatar greginak in reply to Burt Likko says:

        I work in the child custody arena and there definitely a ton of allegations that come up in custody cases. Custody cases are people at their worst usually. I’m not sure if most child molestation claims come out of divorces, although i wouldn’t argue that they don’t. I’ve seen a few doozies of lies by people trying to gain advantage.

        I can’t say agree though on a penalty for “baseless accusation.” Not because i don’t believe there are baseless accusations but i just don’t think its realistic to be able to figure out what it baseless. I’ve seen plenty of allegations that ended up being unfounded and where nothing much actually happened but the allegation made sense from the reporters point of view.  Giving a judge the extra power to punish a baseless allegation is asking for a lot more judicial decisions without a really solid base of evidence. Custody cases already have enough gray areas as it is.Report

  6. Avatar Tod Kelly says:

    First things first: this was another ace, Sam.  I’ve really come to look forward to your guest posts.

    On to the bigger question: Figuring out some kind of solution feels impossible as long as we’re not able to have difficult conversations as a society.  Socio-politcal discussions (and this is political, since any solution assumes a very conscious decision to either use or abstain from using government forces) tend to have narratives that are drafted by the powers that be. And for the powers that be, being a power that be is job number one.  So each side focuses on easy, bite sized cases that make them look like paragons of common sense, and the opposition like complete morons.

    Consequently, any public discussions I ever see about child abuse always devolve into petty partisan bickering about the pressing topic of spanking a child is evil vs. letting a child do whatever they want without punishment is foolish.  I never, ever see them go deeper than this.

    But it seems to me that having some kind of national discussion on what constitutes abuse would be helpful.  In Oregon, we have had a few cases (just as an example) where religious parents let their sick children die of neglect/trusted in God’s wisdom to decide upon a path after using the tool of prayer.  Cons vs. libs take the sides on this you would expect, and everyone weighs in on the easy to talk about theoretical freedom of religion question.  No one touches the how shall we decide what is and isn’t abuse question.

    When some foster parents turn up in the news as having been guilty about abuse, the debates that we have are all about “government competence,” because this is the debate we all feel comfortable having.  No one bothers tackling the thornier issues involved, because it’s a no win for those that drive the dialogue.

    A question I might think that we should start with is, what is child abuse?  Because I think even though we all believe we know what the answer to that is as a society, we really don’t.Report

    • Avatar greginak in reply to Tod Kelly says:

      In the CPS/therapy/counseling/ social service communities what is and isn’t child abuse is a common topic. For instance one way of distinguishing whether something is physical abuse is whether it is with an open or closed hand. Slapping is not abuse, punching is. On the face is usually closer to abuse while on the butt usually isn’t. Leaving bruises is usually abusive, while no bruises suggests no abuse.There are all sorts of things that people only discuss within their professions. What is child abuse? sounds likes one of those things.

      This defintion comes from the Fed DHHS:

      How Is Child Abuse and Neglect Defined in Federal Law?

      Federal legislation lays the groundwork for States by identifying a minimum set of acts or behaviors that define child abuse and neglect. The Federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA), (42 U.S.C.A. §5106g), as amended by the Keeping Children and Families Safe Act of 2003, defines child abuse and neglect as, at minimum:

      • Any recent act or failure to act on the part of a parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation; or
      • An act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.


      • Avatar Will H. in reply to greginak says:

        I think that, in order to make any manner of progress on the issue, we first need to divide the offenders into two groups: those that know that they are doing something wrong, and those that are unaware.
        Defining the characteristics of the second group would seem like a good place to start.
        Some manner of parenting education in high school health or home ec classes would be the obvious vehicle.
        Are these things not being done already?
        Is there some manner of impediment?Report

      • Avatar Will H. in reply to greginak says:

        It looks like that definition has been stricken from section 5106g.Report

  7. Avatar Kyle Cupp says:

    Well considered, Sam. I am at a loss myself for how to satisfactorily respond.  Tod may be on the right track with a national discussion on what we mean by child abuse, but how any conclusions would translate into effective action I do not know.  We seem so powerless before this evil, and yet we bear the shame of not adequately responding.Report

    • Avatar mark boggs in reply to Kyle Cupp says:

      And I hate to say this, but my cynicism has come untucked.  I can envision any national discussion about child abuse leading to the backlash of a bunch folks yelling and screaming about how the governemnt is telling you how you can raise your children and that you can’t even spank a child anymore, blah, blah, blah.  And, to some extent, they may have a justifiable fear that that will be the next cure coming down the legislative colon.

      Maybe if you just ran public safety ads that showed the bruises on the faces and the cuts and lacerations or the burns on the arms of kids who suffer this, you might move a few.  But, as Cahalan linked to above, a guy who takes PCP and eats his child’s eyes?  That guy is too askew to be moved by a commercial.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to mark boggs says:

        I think that people’s disengagement with this issue generally is one not so much of misunderstanding but simply not understanding at all. We can imagine getting spanked. We can imagine, perhaps, the belt or the switch or some screaming. But I think we start to stretch our ability to imagine more malicious and systematic attacks visited against children. Especially when those attacks come from a child’s parents.

        And yes, I agree that the advertising will not reach the person willing to do some of the things described above, just as I wonder to what degree the advertising will reach the parents of the kids that I used to work with. I hate to be dismissive of a genuine suggestion though, because making an attempt, even one that doesn’t work, might be better than our current strategy of simply ignoring the problem entirely.Report

  8. Avatar Sam says:

    I obviously come down on the side that too little is done, but I’m just as troubled as the next person whenever I imagine what doing more might mean. Still, as a society we are so desperate to give the benefit of the doubt to the adult in the scenario, or even worse, to assume that the child must have done something to deserve the treatment they received. It is an odd thing.

    Kyle’s statement – that we’re simultaneously powerless and shamed – seems right, but to accept that is unnerving at best.

    (And as per usual, thank you for the kind words and to Erik for the opportunity to publish something here.)Report

  9. Avatar Antoine says:

    In France, the judicial approach is very different and led to horrible situations at least once for the parents, as children witnesses were not checked thoroughly. Google Outreau for more data if you want to know more.

    It is also easier to lose custody of children in France as social workers do house inspections. I might be wrong.Report

  10. Avatar Sam says:

    I am fascinated by the speed at which this conversation turned into one of state overreach: bad judges, bad social workers, bad decisions. I understand entirely how we get there. The stories that have been linked to are truly horrible. Perhaps we move to scenarios we can fathom?Report

    • Avatar Rtod in reply to Sam says:

      I suspect this is a predictable outcome at this site; I think state overreach vs not state overreach is sometimes just the argument people here default to.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Rtod says:

        I suppose so. I guess the bias is always going to be toward minimizing intervention if there’s a chance that an innocent person/family is caught up. I understand that. However, that does necessarily damn certain children.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Rtod says:

        Given that the solution to this problem – to the extent that there is one – is giving the state longer reach, I’m not sure that expressed concerns about that are just defaulting. Sam tilts towards increased state action. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that view, but if we’re going to discuss that…

        (All of that being said, I support trying to do a better job of this. I am just wary without specifics. Then we can evaluate the specifics, how it might help, and who it might hurt.)Report

    • Avatar Aaron in reply to Sam says:

      Is it possible to discuss these issues without implicating state overreach (and under-reach – why some cases aren’t detected or fall through the cracks)?

      Some years ago I would read abstracts of all of the family law cases decided by my state’s Court of Appeals and the pattern for termination of parental rights cases was pretty clear: 99% of terminations were affirmed and the rare exception would seem to take the form of “When terminating parental rights you forgot to dot this ‘i’ and cross this ‘t’ – do that now, so if it comes back up to us we can affirm.”

      The cases that get media attention are for the most part the cases in which social services fails to act and something bad happens. And most of the time the excuses for inaction are pretty much the same – inexperienced workers, case loads that were too large, “everybody in the family was lying and covering things up, how could we have known”…. The other cases that get media attention typically involve an over-the-top reaction (e.g., taking temporary custody of a child whose dad buys him a ‘Mike’s Hard Lemonade’ at a sports event without realizing that it’s liquor) or intervention in cases that don’t involve abuse (e.g., mistaking osteogenesis imperfecta for abuse, becoming convinced that a mother whose child fails to thrive, but who is actively seeking medical help, is displaying Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, and let’s not forget the confabulated “child sex abuse rings” in communities like Wenatchee, Washington.)

      Sometimes the decision to push ahead with the termination of a parent’s rights seems to be driven less by the severity of the abuse or the parent’s likelihood to accomplish parenting goals, than it is by a social worker’s personal experiences or biases. I recall being told by a judge that a particular social worker was remarkably patient with drug addicts and was tolerant of their relapses, but had a hair trigger response to relapse behavior by alcoholic parents.

      I also recall a social worker who was the guy who “missed” abuse that led to an incredibly embarrassing news story, whose subsequent approach was to err on the side of intervention. Once you’re in the system, that’s how things seem to roll – nobody wants to be the next guy who “messed up” and gets blamed for a child being found locked in a closet, chained to a bed, tied to a chair or, God forbid, killed. It’s an understandable concern, but it distorts the system.

      You left legislators off of your list, but with the standards for state intervention, reunification and the general timetables for termination of parental rights being defined by state legislatures, the system sometimes seems more like a social experiment than a true effort to determine and advance the best interest of children who have come into the system. Legislators also decide how much funding to provide, which translates directly into the number of case workers on the street and whether they will be compensated at a level sufficient to keep them in the field.Report

    • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Sam says:

      I think the immediacy of state overreach concerns is entirely appropriate.

      The need for state intervention in the extreme cases described in the OP is obvious. Only the most cold-hearted disciples of Ayn Rand could go through the OP and NOT acknowledge that a small number of parents, left to their own devices, will torture their own children to death — or worse yet, acknowledge that such things will occasionally happen, but then shrug their shoulders as if it’s none of society-at-large’s concern. Certainly that was not the point I wanted to make.

      And there is also an implication in the OP that in the overwhelming majority of instances, families ought to be left to govern their own affairs, that internal family dynamics including but not limited to discipline of children are areas in which the government ought to respect the privacy and autonomy of people. It is only in the extreme cases, cases of great harm or potential great harm, that we can unambiguously say that there was a need for state involvement. You and I might disagree about whether (for instance) spanking a child to impose discipline is an optimal, sub-optimal, or abusive practice. But I doubt you would disagree with me that the parent who spanks a child only very occasionally is the sort of parent society should separate from their children. Maybe in some future time spanking will be seen as an inherent moral horror, but there is no substantial consensus to that effect right now.

      So, all of us reciting horror stories about how awful child abuse is, and competing to outdo one another in finding the most horrific stories imaginable, would not be a particularly interesting exercise. At least, not to me. Those sorts of situations are always going to be unambiguous.

      Given that there is a need for state intrusiveness into a very sensitive, very private area of life, the most important discussion to have is the degree of latitude that the state will be given when using this power, and what kinds of measures will be put in place to prevent abuse of that power.

      I think J.L. Wall’s story of his father’s experience is an important one to consider, too, and that’s a different take on it than the political science type analysis you call out here.Report

      • Avatar Sam in reply to Burt Likko says:


        I’m not dismissing those concerns regarding state overreach. If anything, I tried to acknowledge that the problem of overreach lurked. But that overreach dominates the conversation. It’s as if the conversation is limited by parameters that dictate that any proposed solution that might conceivably lead to an overreach is automatically dismissed. But what then? It strikes me than an expansive consideration of this problem ought to include discussion about the amount of state involvement that can be considered acceptable, and that saying, “Nothing more than happens today and actually less if possible!” damns children to horrible situations that leave lifelong scarring at best.

        To my mind then, this conversation then isn’t about us having a horror-story-off, which I’m sure each of us could make a good faith attempt to win; it is about acknowledging that there is a fair amount of this behavior occurring, more than might be generally understood, and what, if any, solutions are we willing to at least consider.

        My experience, like J.L. Wall’s father, involved dealing with the actual people affected by these crimes. I dealt with the victims (although some/many of them had gone on to become offenders of one variety or another); it sounds like J.L. Wall’s father dealt with the aggressors. By the middle of my third year on the job, I had risen to what was known as a Master Teacher/Counselor, which may have been the product of being relatively decent at my job and which may have been the product of simply lasting for two plus years. Simply put, there aren’t enough resources thrown at this problem to either get people in the door or keep them there when times get tough.

        Maybe that last point is one to pivot from.Report

  11. Avatar J.L. Wall says:

    Many years ago, my father worked in the County Attorney’s office; this was his first job out of law school, I believe, and given that he was 25 and “in charge” of prosecuting domestic abuse cases, I suspect that he was the only one actually assigned to prosecute them. While it was one of a very, very few legal jobs he held in which he felt he was doing something worthwhile, it was also one which was emotionally trying, and then emotionally impossible, for him to handle. Around the time he found out my mother was pregnant with me, he was in the middle of some particularly horrid case. (The only thing I know of the details is that it involved a radiator.) He told his superiors that he wanted to stay in the office, but needed a transfer. They offered him a significant raise for the same position; he took a low-level private practice job.

    Several things stand out in light of Sam’s post and the discussion: (1) for a metropolitan area of around 500,000 people, there was very little manpower devoted to this crime in particular. (But I’m sure the CA’s office was overworked/understaffed to begin with.) (2) Prosecuting child abuse cases is itself trying, particularly unassisted, particularly when handed to young parents. (3) But it seems like no one else in that office wanted to/would do this. (4) Leading to possible burnout after 36 months? (5) My mother is still convinced that my father’s bosses thought he was simply bluffing for a raise — that the just didn’t understand the toll that these cases were taking on those they assigned to them.

    And (6): The men (for this point, mostly actually the men) my father convicted were the ones who tracked down our address and phone number — and left messages that, I believe, explained precisely what they’d do to my brother and myself now that they were out of prison (though some that never made it that far kept in touch, too). So my father kept a shotgun in his bedroom closet and another gun hidden in attic space near the kids’ rooms.

    My father preferred a job in which he felt like he was doing very little for society to this one, in which he knew he was doing good. I don’t know that I can blame him, even after seeing the toll the “What’s the goddamn point?” took. And I think, also, that he always felt a little guilty about having walked away from it.Report

  12. Avatar DensityDuck says:

    The answer to the question “how do we stop child abuse?” is the same as the answer to the question “how do we stop terrorism?”

    And if we don’t like the things that we do to answer that second question, then we know whether we’ll like the things we do to answer the first question.Report

    • Avatar Sam in reply to DensityDuck says:

      I think there’s something dismissive about this. I didn’t ask how to stop child abuse. In fact, I acknowledged that such a goal was unreasonable. I was asking about making a dent.Report

      • Avatar DensityDuck in reply to Sam says:

        “make a dent”, “stop”, for purposes of this discussion they might as well be equivalent. There is no “make a dent” that would not “stop” if provided with enough funding.

        Unless you’re talking less about prevention and more about mitigation after the fact, and I don’t get the sense that’s what you mean.Report

  13. Avatar Jason Kuznicki says:

    This was a really good, really tough, thought-provoking post.

    I’ve been corresponding with a grad student who is writing on libertarian political theory and children. My view is that it’s a giant blind spot, because most of classical liberalism and libertarianism presupposes a community of adults. Trying to apply adult rules to children is a very bad fit, and trying to assert parental rights can also easily go too far.

    As to cases of abuse themselves: There are, as they say, two types of error. Your post treats what’s canonically known as the Type II error, in which a significant result (abuse) is not detected. But Type I errors — false positives — happen in this area as well, sometimes with devastating, life-ruining consequences of their own.

    I wish there were easy answers. There aren’t.Report

  14. Avatar Damien says:

    Sam, I appreciate your concern. You highlight an important issue. I have been wondering about this topic. I wrote an article about how religion perpetuates such an atrocity when the news broke about what was transpiring at Penn State. If you would like, here is the link:


  15. Avatar Plinko says:

    Great post, Sam. My wife, formerly a DFACS counselor who handled potential termination cases, read it and said it was very spot-on.

    What seems to be left out of this discussion is the very important factor of how much the state can improve the situation of abused children in a lot of marginal termination cases. Once we account for it, I think it goes a long way toward explaining the strong bias away from going through termination and/or incarceration for those marginal abusers. The fact is that the termination process is slow and agonizing (for good reason – minimization of false positives given the extremity of the harm they cause) and the experience of being in an orphanage/group home/foster care is not the most healing situation for a lot of children – and it can be downright terrible.
    There are a important reasons why for that second point – a lack of sufficient funding and facilities, a severe shortage of adults willing to foster and/or adopt non-infants (especially ones coming out of a termination where abuse or health issues are likely) – but in the end when the alternative is not all that great, why would the state choose to terminate more marginal cases when it’s barely able to offer a good alternative life for kids coming out of the more cut-and-dried cases?

    The system needs to take a broad view of what is best for those children – I suspect that knowing how terrible the termination propcReport