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by Duncan Lindsey
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University of California, Los Angeles
- Table of Contents
- What Others Say
- Excerpts from the Book Reviews
- Latest review
- Peter Rossi, University of Massachusetts (in Children and Youth Services Review, 17, 347-351).
- Elizabeth Hutchinson, Virginia Commonwealth University (in Social Services Review, forthcoming).
- James S. Mickelson, University of Houston (in Journal of Community Practice).
- James X. Bembry, University of Maryland, Baltimore (Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science, 545, 200-201).
- Gary B. Melton, University of South Carolina (in Social Work, 41, 331-332).
- Brenda G. McGowen, Columbia University (in Political Science Quarterly, 478-479).
- Brian Simmons, University of California, Berkeley (in Journal of Social Service Research, 19, 71-73).
- Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Adelphi University (in Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 11, 383-385).
- Rosemary Sarri, University of Michigan (in Children and Youth Services Review, 17, 351-354).
Cited by Hilary Rodham Clinton, It Takes a Village
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416pp, line figures, tables, 234×156
Published 1994. Hardback, 0-19-508518-3
Today the United States has more children living in poverty than any other industrialized nation. More than a quarter of all children grow up in poverty. The poverty rates for African American and Latino children exceed 40 percent. Furthermore, the United States, a country which once pioneered strategies to prevent child abuse and which now spends more money fighting child abuse than any other industrialized country, has the highest rate of child abuse in the industrialized world.
Against this background, Duncan Lindsey, a leading authority on child welfare, takes a critical look at the current child welfare system. He traces the transformation of child welfare into child protective services. The current focus on abuse has produced a system that is designed to protect children from physical and sexual abuse and therefore functions as a last resort for only the worst and most dramatic cases in child welfare. In a close analysis of the process on investigating and handling child abuse, Lindsey finds that there is no evidence that the transformation into protective services has reduced child abuse fatalities or provided a safer environment for children. He makes a compelling argument for the criminal justice system to assume responsibility for the problem of child abuse in order that the child welfare system can address the well-being of a much larger number of children now growing up in poverty.
The Welfare of Children is a compassionate blueprint for comprehensive reform of the child welfare system to one that administers to the economic security of the large number of disadvantaged and impoverished children. Concrete policy proposals such as a Child's Future Security account, similar to the Social Security program for older citizens, will spark serious debate on a major public policy issue facing our society.
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Excerpts from a review by Peter Rossi, University of Michigan (in Children and Youth Services Review, 17 (1995), 347-351).
Truly these are sad times for social welfare and the liberal establishment in the United States. Recent political developments have raised specters we have long thought to have been exorcised thoroughly: Who among us could imagine that any Speaker of the House of Representatives might propose the reestablishment of orphanages? ... After orphanages, what next? Poor houses and food baskets?
The political threats to social welfare looming on the horizon are the most frightening, but there are also signs coming from within our ranks that all is not well with many parts of the welfare system. The book under review is a good example of critical attacks from within the social welfare establishment. Whatever he may think of it, Duncan Lindsey's book is a detailed indictment of the child welfare system, identifying faults in the child welfare system that seriously impede its ability to advance the welfare of children. However, he does balance criticisms with suggested remedies. In his view, the American child welfare system is in trouble, but it can also be fixed.
Lindsey's most serious charge is that our child welfare system has lost its major goal of improving the welfare of children and gotten bogged down in running a residual welfare system in which attention is focused nearly exclusively on deciding what should be done when children are maltreated. A residual system is one that focuses on the most severe cases, trying to fix them up and spends little time on preventive work. According to Lindsey, the proper goal of the child welfare system is to assure that maltreatment is prevented, rather than intervening after maltreatment as occurred, as part of larger goal of improving the welfare of all children. Investigating abuse cases is a task more properly left to the criminal justice system, where expertise in such matters is located. Abuse, he asserts, is a criminal offense, for which criminal sanctions are appropriate. Serious instances of neglect also ought to be handled by criminal justice. Less serious neglect cases might best be handled by addressing the poverty conditions which are their major causes.
In my view, the second most serious charge against the child welfare system is that it lacks a scientific basis. With some exceptions, social work research is of low quality. But what is worse, good research often does not validate social work practice. As a major example, Lindsey examines the evaluation studies of family preservation programs, claiming that there is scarce evidence that such programs materially lessen the chances of state custody being taken in families which have gone through the family preservation program.
A third charge in the indictment against child welfare, is that the current system cannot distinguish between poverty and maltreatment, showing that in cases of child maltreatment the best predictor of state custody as an outcome of investigation is a family's source of income: Families with uncertain income sources are more likely to have their children taken into custody when compared to families with such steady income sources as full time employment and AFDC. Much of the evidence for income bias in the taking of custody comes from research the author conducted.
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Lindsey also presents an agenda for fixing the child welfare system. Most important of all, the field of child welfare ought to change its orientation back to its original goal of improving the welfare of children. The task of investigating maltreatment complaints ought to be turned over to the police who can conduct proper investigations and the courts who can properly punish those who assault and harm children. Child welfare should be concerned with raising the level of well being for all children. To this end, Lindsey advocates a number of schemes for providing income maintenance to all families, taxing away the benefits for well-to-do. Non-custodial parents are to be forced to contribute to their children's' support by a payroll deduction scheme administered by the Internal Revenue Service. Income maintenance payments can be in several forms, including family allowances.
What to make of the charges in Lindsey's indictment and his remedies?
First, there can be no doubt that the burdens of investigating maltreatment charges and running foster care consumes the energy and resources available to child welfare agencies. And, although not many, some physical and sexual assaults on children by family members ought to be treated as criminal matters (and often are), turning over the investigation of child maltreatment to the police needs to be carefully examined as to the appropriateness of that suggested policy shift.
On the issue of the distressing lack of good science in social work practice and research, Lindsey has truly hit on a good mark. There are many weak reeds in what has been invoked as theory in social work. ...The quality of social work research varies widely, but I venture that measures of central tendencies are low. However, that does not mean that good research is not being done on child welfare problems because basic research in the disciplines of demography, child, and human development is flourishing. In my view, the problem lies in practice oriented applied research. If social work theorists and practitioners paid more attention to what is going on in the basic social sciences, we might be able to develop effective forms of intervention.
Characterizing the child welfare system as operating as a residual program is an apt description.
Perhaps the strongest and weakest point in Lindsey's recommendations have to do with his suggested income maintenance proposals. The strong point is that an adequate income maintenance system coupled with measures assuring that non-custodial parents assume fiscal responsibility toward their children would go a long way in raising the welfare of children. If we had a system that provided enough income support to the poor, we could solve many of the family problems that lead to abuse and neglect. In the long run, such a system might halt or even reverse the disastrous trend toward lone parent families who are numerically so prominent among maltreatment cases.
There are several ways of designing such income maintenance systems but the preferred ways are those that do not target the poor but provide benefits to all families. Lindsey wisely does not strongly endorse anyone but advocates for the general principle.
All that said, Lindsey has written an important book that should brought to the attention of all concerned with the welfare of children. He is mostly right about the faults of the existing child welfare system and the severe limitations on the effectiveness of existing casework practice. As for his remedies, we can only hope that the book will still be in print when our political system will be ready to consider his proposals.
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Excerpts from a review by Elizabeth Hutchinson, Virginia Commonwealth University (in Social Service Review, 70 (December 1996), 655-658).
For some time now, the failure of the public child welfare system in the United States has been acknowledged across the political spectrum, with conflicting theories as to what went wrong in our latest child-saving movement. In the midst of the debate, Duncan Lindsey writes with both passion and reason a book that calls for redirecting our thinking about child welfare policy. Lindsey builds a strong, well-reasoned case for his thesis that child poverty is the greatest current threat to the welfare of children and for his central argument that our traditional residual model of child welfare policy is insufficient to the task of ensuring the welfare of impoverished children. ...
The book is organized into two interdependent parts. Part 1 presents an analytic history of child welfare policy in North America; Part 2 focuses on recommendations for ending child poverty. The history of child welfare is rigorously researched and meticulously documented. Lindsey's impressive analytic skills are evident in his discussion of three successful child welfare demonstration projects in the 1970s and the implications they held for major child welfare reform based on the theme of permanency planning. His analysis of why that reform never happened is penetrating and comprehensive, recalling a confluence of factors that included Reagan tax cuts, the onslaught of child protection cases that followed mandatory reporting laws, and the changing family structure. Lindsey suggests that the world was so changed by these factors, and others, that a residual approach became grossly inadequate to the task ensuring child welfare, and a structural approach became necessary. ...
Lindsey's skills as policy analyst are most obvious in the second part of the book, chapter 8, "The Economic Condition of Children," and chapter 10, "The Underlying Problem of Child Welfare: Families that Are Not Economically Self-Supporting," are the heart of the book. Lindsey does an admirable job of telling the story of the growth of both poverty and wealth in North America throughout the 1980s, demonstrating the central role of the federal economic and taxation policies in this growth. His use of international comparisons throughout sharpens the analysis. In chapter 10, Lindsey examines the empirical support for competing explanations for the growth in lone-parent families, juxtaposing a variety of databases to test competing hypotheses and using his keen analytic skills to reinterpret the evidence and find the logical holes in the arguments submitted by other social theorists. In this discussion, as in the earlier discussion of child welfare practice effectiveness research in chapters 2 and 3, Lindsey is committed to unbiased analysis. Although his strongest challenges are to Charles Murray's conservative theory that Aid to Families with Dependent Children is the cause of the rise in lone-parent families, he is careful to report that there is only equivocal support for William Julius Wilson's theory about the causal role of joblessness among African-American males. ...
The Welfare of Children, in the true Progressive tradition, announces that social improvement is possible, insists on major reform of current policies, and recommends specific social experiments. It remains to be seen whether we can regain our faith in the ability of government to improve society, but we could certainly undertake a project to generate a public discourse about whether we as a society care about children as much as we assert.
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Excerpts from a review by James S. Mickelson, University of Houston (in Journal of Community Practice (1996)).
In The Welfare of Children, Duncan Lindsey, critically reviews the current child welfare system's evolution and advocates that the system be changed to address the pressing needs of millions of children.
The book is divided into two parts. The first section provides the reader with the historical development of the child welfare system since the 1800's. Lindsey focuses on the evolution of the child welfare system, taking into account social changes of society and the family. A critical and well-documented view of how the system shifted from the orphan trains to foster care to children's protective services is included. The historical review leads to the point that professionals have not been clear or even truthful on how and why children were entering the child welfare system in the first place. Once the field began to understand it's delusion, the system transformed into child protection, and consequently Lindsey argues that decision-making in the child welfare system shifted from assessment of the child's needs to one of investigation and substantiation of abuse and neglect.
The first half of the book is a backdrop to prepare the reader for the major premise of Lindsey's concerns that we have left millions of children behind. He ends the first half of the book with a clear statement that the system is concerned with abuse when millions of children live in poverty.
In the second section of The Welfare of Children Lindsey makes a powerful argument that society needs to address the pressing issue of child poverty. Again in a well documented argument, the reader begins to understand to what extent today's children are now the poorest of the poor. Such poverty clearly magnifies the problems that a narrowly focused child welfare system is unable to address. Society may be consumed with the issue of abuse, but Lindsey points out that hunger, disease, and despair is what should be addressed by the system. The author does not leave the reader with the usual "aint-it-awful" comments but makes solid recommendations on how to address child poverty with some major social policy changes. By studying how poverty was eliminated among the elderly, he argues that the same could be accomplished for children.
Of great interest among his specific recommendations is the Child's Future Security Account. In shorthand this Account is a system of savings for a child's education and transition into the workforce. This review cannot do justice to the concept since the details of the idea span a full chapter.
Lindsey and this reviewer both have a sense of despair in discussing the child welfare system in light of the current debates about social welfare reform. Nevertheless, the arguments presented and the blueprints proposed are provocative and indeed timely.
...Lindsey proposes a paradigm shift in the welfare system which will take a considerable amount of stamina and political savvy to accomplish.
This textbook is excellent, thorough, and well documented, and I recommend it for child welfare policy courses. I also recommend this for practitioners...
It is true that what is required are innovative and imaginative solutions that will address the problems that poor children face in this post-industrial economy. Lindsey offers solid solutions. Although poverty is a monumental problem, we should be careful that in restructuring the entire welfare system we look at a more holistic approach and consider other areas such as education, parenting, and mental health. However, this reviewer has to conclude with Lindsey that eliminating the poverty in which millions of children live would be a monumental step to improving the quality of life for all our children. This book is highly recommended reading for students, practitioners, and policy makers alike.
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Excerpts from a review by James X. Bembry, University of Maryland (in Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 545, 200-201).
Lindsey argues that our current system for ensuring the welfare of children and families, which to a large extent evolved from some of the compromises made by the maternalists, is inadequate. It is a system that emphasizes a "residual approach," and began by providing orphanages and then foster homes for abandoned and neglected children. Currently, it vacillates between attempting to preserve families through intensive casework services and protecting children from abuse through mandatory reporting and investigation. Lindsey makes the point that the effectiveness of preservation services is open to question and that the issue of child abuse is a red herring that consumes resources and misuses the talent of child welfare professionals.
What we are left with is a child welfare system that misses the mark. Lindsey asks why so much attention is paid to the child abuse that takes place inside the walls of our nation's homes and so little attention is given to the societal inequities that allow 20 percent of our nation's children to live in poverty. The core question Lindsey proposes is, If the primary mission of the child welfare system has become to target child abuse, why not aim at the massive suffering caused by child poverty? He hits hits the when he places responsibility for many of our social problems on the inescapable reality that too many of our children grow up without "hope our opportunity."
As a society, to contemplate that fact should cause us shame and send a shudder along our collective spine. What nihilistic depths have we reached when one-fifth of our children are considered expendable? A child welfare system, if it is true to its mission, should be engaged in the process of imbuing all of our children with a sense of possibility. Essentially, this is the challenge that Lindsey poses. He also offers proposals to get there. To those who study the field, some of the proposals are familiar; nonetheless, the material that Lindsey presents in The Welfare of Children must be included in any future discussion of child welfare.
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Excerpts from a review by Gary B. Melton, University of South Carolina (in Social Work, 41 (1996), 331-332).
...the issues addressed in The Welfare of Children are at the center of current debates about economic support programs, tax policy, and child protection. Duncan Lindsey presents a provocative assessment of the failure of the current child welfare system and a blueprint for significant reform.
...this important book challenges both right-wing and left-wing attacks on the social welfare enterprise and liberal defenses of the status quo in the welfare system.
Lindsey decries the transformation of child welfare into a largely ineffective system for defending against child maltreatment through social services investigations. He argues for treating severe physical and sexual abuse as criminal justice matters within the jurisdiction of law enforcement.
Second, recognizing that neglect is primarily a problem of poverty, Lindsey advocates a structural solution that in his view would restore the integrity of the child welfare system; an economic safety net that would include universal child development programs, incorporation of child support collection into the tax system, and various tax breaks for families with children. Lindsey argues persuasively that the present economic support system punishes children for the economic failings of their parents.
Third, to energize "an engine of economic opportunity for young people, Lindsey advocates establishment of a Social Security-like system that would combine government and parental contributions in an account to finance higher education or other programs for transition to adulthood. Such an approach would focus on the accumulation of economic assets as the long-term solution to problems of economic deficiencies.
[The Welfare of Children presents an] overview of the present and past of the child welfare system. Most important, it also offers a stimulating perspective on its future.
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Excerpts from a review by Brenda G. McGowen, Columbia University (in Political Science Quarterly (1995), 478-479).
The author's main thesis is that the traditional residual perspective on delivery of child welfare services, which assumes that services should be provided only when parents are unwilling or unable to fulfill their normal role obligations, has become totally dysfunctional. It should be replaced, Lindsey argues, by a system of economic security that administers to the needs of all impoverished children. He develops this theme by dividing the book into two major parts. The first part provides a historical review of the development of the child welfare system focused primarily on its recent transformation into a child protective system and the relationship between poverty and service utilization. The second part of the book examines the current economic conditions of children.
It is almost impossible to disagree with Lindsey's insightful critique of the child welfare system. As long-term editor of the premier journal in the field, Children and Youth Services Review, he is well acquainted with current research and issues in the arena and discusses them in a compelling manner. His creative proposals for structural reform through adoption of a Guaranteed Child Tax Exemption and Children's Future Security Account are equally persuasive. He should be applauded as the first scholar to frame current deficiencies in the child welfare system squarely in the context of the recent epidemic of child poverty.
Lindsey's compelling proposals, like the early plans for Social Security...deserve widespread debate when we have national leadership ready to consider alternative means of insuring the welfare of children.
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Excerpts from a review by Brian Simmons, University of California, Berkeley (in Journal of Social Service Research, 19 (1996), 71-71).
The book is divided into two parts. The first part lays the foundation for the second and contains excellent chapters on the historical development of child welfare policy and practice in the United States ...the impact of research on the unfolding of that history, and the efficacy of social casework. His retelling of the transformation of child welfare into the residually-focused child protection system is excellent.
..[in] the second half he argues that child welfare efforts would be better spent focusing on the well-being of children living in poverty, children whose numbers far exceed those reported to be victims of abuse and/or neglect. His chapter, "The Economic Condition of Children" should be required reading in all child welfare policy and social policy classes. In arguing for a universal approach to replace the residual one, Lindsey suggests a three-prong approach:
The latter, modeled after the Social Security System and aimed at replicating its success at reducing poverty among the elderly, would guarantee that each child would have a significant amount of money available for him or her to use for college expenses or for the transition into economic independence upon reaching the age of majority. Beyond the practical effect of providing substantial financial support at that critical time, such a plan would also provide children in poverty a reason for maintaining hope that their future will be better than their present, an element missing in so many poor children today.
Lindsey's proposals are vulnerable to the same criticisms that are leveled at most universal programs, primarily that scarce resources are expanded on some who do not need the assistance, thereby reducing the amount of help available to those who are in need. Nevertheless, given the widespread concurrence that AFDC is in need of serious reform, it may be time to adopt Lindsey's approach. As this is written, the U.S. Congress is putting final touches on a welfare "reform" proposal which will only aggravate the conditions created by a residual approach to alleviating poverty among American children. It is unfortunate that our lawmakers have resisted the influence of this thoughtful and challenging book.
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Excerpts from a review by Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg, Adelphi University (in Affilia: Journal of Women and Social Work, 11 (1996), 383-385).
This review of child welfare, past and present, concludes that hysteria over the horrors of child abuse has transformed public child welfare from "a system serving a broad range of disadvantaged children into one designed primarily to protect children from battering and assault" (p. 161). A number of studies, including Lindsey's, have found that social workers are unlikely to predict which parents who are suspect of abuse will inflict severe harm on their children and that the major determinant of children's removal from their homes is not the severity of child abuse but unstable sources of parental income. With dark shadows over Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the finding that at-risk children whose families receive governmental income support are less likely than are those whose parents are self-supporting or economically dependent on relatives or friends to be placed in foster care should give one pause. Lindsey's discussion of AFDC emphasizes the program's insufficient incentives to work or remarry.
Because social workers are ineffective in policing child abuse and are diverted by this task from their primary obligation to disadvantaged children, Lindsey suggests that the investigatory role should be transferred to institutions that are better able to perform it, namely, the police and the courts. Child welfare could then assume a structural role, rather than a narrowly residual one, by preventing the poverty that abuses so many children in the United States and Canada.
The Welfare of Children is passionate in its concern for the millions of poor children and skillful and thorough in its analysis of research and theory related to poverty and single parenthood. Lindsey recognizes that single mothers, whose families are the majority of poor families, face severe inequities in the labor market and heavy burdens of work at home. In reviewing Wilson's (1987) book on the effect of men's unemployment on the Black family structure, Lindsey makes a point that some feminists also make: that it is not only the fortunes of Black men that affect family formation but also the severe problems of unemployment and underemployment among young Black women (cf. Goldberg, 1990). Furthermore, he rightly concentrates on the economic consequences of single parenthood, not on what he acknowledges is the largely intuitive view that children should be socialized by parents of both sexes.
.."The underlying problem of child welfare," Lindsey declares is "families that are not economically self-supporting" (p. 257).
[The Welfare of Children is a] scholarly and substantial work, with much to offer students of child welfare and family poverty in both the United States and Canada.
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Excerpts from a review by Rosemary Sarri, University of Michigan (in Children and Youth Services Review, 17 (1995), 351-354).
The well-being of children is an issue of critical concern in the United States and throughout the world, but there is little consensus as to what can or must be done to accomplish that goal. Although each of these books has its own particular focus, taken together they provide an excellent assessment of the status of major aspects of child welfare in the U.S. and Canada today.
In The Welfare of Children Lindsey provides substantial data from a variety of sources to validate his argument that poverty is the most critical factor to be addressed to assure child well-being. The book is subdivided into two parts, the first part addresses the development of the child welfare system in the United States during the past century. Primary attention is directed to the period since World War II, and his focus is on the programs and services that have been developed to aid children at risk because of poverty, abuse and neglect. Lindsey discusses the changing roles of women and the changes in family structure as the context in which new child welfare issues have arisen. His particular contribution lies in his careful review and analysis of the various intervention modalities that have been implemented, and of the evaluations of their outcomes and impact. Relatively less attention is given to systematic analysis of the frequent changes in federal and state policies and of their respective consequences. For example, since 1960 AFDC benefits have declined (in constant dollars), and many authors have pointed to this situation as important in the increase in out-of-home care, especially in the 1980s and l990s. Moreover, if an AFDC eligible child is removed from his parent and placed in care, federal and state costs increase significantly because of the greater cost of out-of-home care.
Lindsey's analysis of child protective services is particularly informative and deserves careful reading by every child welfare worker, particularly with respect to the factors associated with child processing.
In Part II Lindsey focuses on strategies for ending child poverty which he defines as the primary mission of the child welfare system. The documentation of need to reduce child poverty is clear and well-presented along with evidence that the existing residual programs of AFDC, Food Stamps, WIC and related programs are insufficient to raise children out of poverty. He also provides extensive information to document the growing impoverishment of children, particularly children of color and those in single mother families. His argument is further strengthened by international comparison which confirm that children in the United States experience higher rates of poverty than comparable developed countries.
The National Commission on Children recommended in 1991 that $56 billion was needed if we were to ensure an average level of child well-being. Unfortunately today policy makers appear focused on implementing programs that are likely to further increase child poverty. In sharp contrast, Lindsey advocates universal child support collection, a guaranteed child exemption for all children, and using the social security system to fund a Child Future Security Account that would ensure that children would have an account to use for higher education or other transition to adulthood. Funding for the account would come from the government and payroll tax with a graduated tax schedule depending upon the parents' income. Similar proposals for use of the Social Security model have been offered by Thurow (1992) and Hill and Morgan (1991). These proposals are likely to be considered by the Congress since there is a recognized need to advance education if this country is to meet the technological challenges of the global economy.
Hill, M., & Morgan, J. (1991). Expanding choices for
human capital expenditures: a Proposal to enhance the financial
security of children, in R. Mayer (Ed.) (1991). Enhancing
consumer choice. ( 349-369).
Thurow, L. (1992) Head to head: The coming economic battle among Japan Europe and America. New York: Wm. Morrow and Company.
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From page 143 of: It Takes a Village and other lessons children teach us
"In his book The Welfare of Children, Duncan Lindsey, a professor at the School of Public Policy and Social Research at UCLA, argues persuasively that the child welfare system has been overwhelmed by the responsibilities assigned to it in the past two decades. With limited resources, it has proved unable to provide the full range of protective services for which it is responsible: intervening in emergencies, evaluating children's safety and removing them from the family when necessary, placing them in foster care, counseling parents, deciding whether to prosecute parents, reuniting families, and coordinating services with schools, police, relatives, and other agencies. The burden of child protection not only has made it impossible for welfare workers to perform their historic mission of helping disadvantaged children but, according to Lindsey, "too often allows criminal physical and sexual assault of children to go unprosecuted and thus fails to protect children from continued harm."
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