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Journal Issue: Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect Volume 8 Number 1 Spring 1998

Statement of Purpose
Richard E. Behrman

Statement of Purpose

The primary purpose of The Future of Children is to disseminate timely information on major issues related to children's well-being, with special emphasis on providing objective analysis and evaluation, translating existing knowledge into effective programs and policies, and promoting constructive institutional change. In attempting to achieve these objectives, we are targeting a multidisciplinary audience of national leaders, including policymakers, practitioners, legislators, executives, and professionals in the public and private sectors. This publication is intended to complement, not duplicate, the kind of technical analysis found in academic journals and the more general coverage of children's issues by the popular press and special interest groups.

This issue of the journal focuses on efforts to protect children from abuse and neglect, primarily through the government child protective services (CPS) system. Pressures on this system have mounted steadily, spurred by the spread of substance abuse among parents, rising rates of family breakup, deepening poverty, and cuts in social services. The changes brought by welfare reform may create new demands on the child protection system—the ultimate safety net for children.

Today, overburdened CPS agencies investigate reports of child maltreatment and work with the legal system, community service networks, and family members to devise ways of assuring children's safety either in their families or in out-of-home placements. The system succeeds in some cases and fails in others, often with tragic consequences. Funding constraints, staffing challenges, limited knowledge, and a lack of public support all impede efforts by CPS to protect children. Key questions concern when and how CPS should intervene in family life, and which supports and services it is appropriate for society to provide to help families cope with child-rearing problems.

Only recently have reformers focused on the “front end” of the child protection system, where decisions are made to substantiate allegations of maltreatment, provide family preservation services, or recommend foster care placements for children in dangerous situations. Few government agencies have a task as emotionally laden as the CPS effort to protect child victims of abuse and neglect. Few agencies are as controversial. Few have as much power over the lives of vulnerable children. It is crucial that we both understand and strengthen these agencies, and complement their efforts so children can truly be safe.

The articles presented here summarize knowledge and experience in selected areas that we believe are relevant to improving public policies in the United States that have an impact on child protection. We hope the information and analyses these articles contain will further understanding of the important issues and thus contribute to reasonable changes in policies that will benefit children.

We welcome your comments and suggestions regarding this issue of The Future of Children. Our intention is to encourage informed debate about child protection. To this end we invite correspondence to the Editor. We would also appreciate your comments about the approach we have taken in presenting the focus topic and welcome your suggestions for future topics.