[LMB] OT: Anne with an "E"

Beatrice Otter beatrice_otter at zoho.com
Sun Apr 26 06:03:44 BST 2020

---- On Sat, 25 Apr 2020 21:06:06 -0700 Eric Oppen <ravenclaweric at gmail.com> wrote ----

This sort of situation is one where it's true that "hard cases make bad
law."  Child-protection agencies can't do right---either they're too
proactive and taking children away for silly or minor reasons, or they're
not proactive enough and after a spectacular case of child abuse comes to
light, everybody howls "why didn't they DOOOO something?"

Beatrice Otter:

It doesn't help that they are perennially starved for resources, so the social workers are overworked and burned out as they make their decisions.  Nobody makes good decisions in that state.  And so many of the interventions that demonstrably help prevent and reduce child abuse and neglect (in both major and minor cases) take time and money to implement.  Except for the very vilest of cases, it's pretty much always better for the kids to focus on training their parents to be better parents than it is to remove the kids from the home--especially if you start when the problems are still small.  And it's a lot cheaper, too!  But we tend to fund foster care and not parenting training.

But the biggest problem, I think, is that it's only in the last twenty or thirty years or so gotten actual decent cross-cultural longitudinal studies of different childrearing practices.  Different cultures and classes and regions and families have different traditions and ways of doing things.  Until very recently there wasn't much hard scientific evidence laying out

a) what the fundamental best practices actually are, and how great the range of ways those best practices can be enacted is (the same foundational concepts can look very different when applied in different cultures)

b) how to train people in the fundamental best practices in a way that allows them to adapt those best practices to their own culture and circumstances

c) at what point does "these practices are not optimal" tip over into "this child is sustaining psychological, emotional, or physical damage"

d) at what point is that damage bad enough that removing the child from the family is better than working with the family to try and improve their childrearing practices, and

e) once you have removed the child, temporarily or permanently, what is the best placement for them.

Given a lack of knowledge of these areas, it was up to the (overworked and overburdened and underpaid) social workers to just sort of know what to do.  And the thing is, no matter where you go, most social workers tend to be upper-middle-class women of the dominant culture.  They have historically been fairly decent on average at figuring out what to do in cases of their own class and culture, but *absolutely terrible* at figuring that out for people below them on the socioeconomic scale or of different cultures.  For example, looking at a poor family and going "the children are suffering terribly, they must be removed!" when the parents are perfectly good parents doing the best they can under trying circumstances.  And looking at a family with a different culture, and assuming that "different" equals bad, and so obviously the children need to be removed, when in fact the parents were doing a perfectly good job and the kids were fine.

Now we know a lot more than we used to!  It's just a matter of applying it ...

Beatrice Otter

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