The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

November 29, 2012

Recognizing abuse is not enough


The Daily Item

— The child protection task force created in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal has made a number of laudable recommendations, including expanding the definition of who is a mandatory reporter and a broader definition of child abuse.

The findings also called for stiffer penalties for mandatory reporters who fail to alert police about suspicions of child abuse.

Task force members fulfilled their charge by addressing the most glaring shortcomings in the state child protection law as they related to the Sandusky scandal.

When it comes to addressing other factors that contribute to our fundamental failure to protect children, there is more work to be done.

Our child protection strategy remains pinned to the counter-intuitive notion that children are better off in the care of their families, even when those families have demonstrated that they are in no position to provide basic levels of supervision, nurturing or safety.

Due to the shift away from institutional care of children, those responsible for intervening to protect children too often have no choice but to put children back into the same households where the children were originally neglected or endangered.

The remaining institutional alternative, the secrecy-cloaked juvenile court system, was significantly discredited by the Luzerne County scandal, where judges were found taking kickbacks to incarcerate juveniles accused of offenses that would normally not require detention.

Unintentionally, our social support system exacerbates the problem with financial incentives for those demonstrably unable to provide for children to have even larger families.

Working families have the same income, regardless of how many mouths there are to feed. Parents on assistance receive more money if they have more children.

The well-documented association between poverty mistreatment of children may be no accident. Flawed social policy that defines the offspring of the poor as economic sustenance for their parents dehumanizes child and parent alike.

Pennsylvania can examine every imaginable approach to better recognize and respond to child abuse. Until there is more attention to other factors in the equation, those efforts will go only so far.

The child protection task force did not tackle broader issues of social policy.  It was not within its scope.

If we want to address the unhappy, unsafe and uncared for lives of children and, perhaps, forestall predictable social dysfunction in generations to come, we will ponder not just intervention, but prevention as well.