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How Does The U.S. Child Welfare System Work – Everything You Should Know

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You might think of the child welfare system as a single entity. However, the truth is the other way around as many organizations (non-profit/ non-government/ religious/ philanthropic) and law segments, such as Clergy abuse, emotional abuse, etc., work together to protect and strengthen the families while keeping the children safe. Various social services departments often contract and cooperate with child welfare agencies and community organizations to provide different services. The services include but are not limited to foster care, mental health care, domestic violence services, financial assistance, in-home family preservation services, etc. Undoubtedly, the children welfare systems are complex, as their specific procedures differ from one state to another. Read on to learn more about the functions and objectives of child welfare from a national perspective.

What is the Child Welfare System?

You can think of the American child welfare system as a group of services specifically designed to advocate the well-being of children while ensuring safety and strengthening families. The primary responsibility of a child welfare system rests with the U.S. Government. Hence, the government supports different child welfare programs through funding and a strong law system. The responsibility of implementing family law and Federal child legislation rests with the American Department of Health and Human Service.  The State and local agencies work closely with the Children’s Bureau and focus on developing programs that prevent child abuse through strengthening families, safeguarding children from further neglect, and reuniting children with their families.

What Happens When Neglect/ Abuse is Reported?

Any concerned person or witnesses of neglect, maltreatment, and abuse can report to organizations and police officials while staying anonymous. Many reports are made by individuals reporting suspicious incidents of abuse and neglect. Such individuals are typically referred to as the mandatory reporters. Typically, such reports are received by CPS workers, who then proceed to either screening the reports or screening them out. When the report contains ample information to warrant an investigation, it is screened in. On the other hand, if the report lacks sufficient information to induce a follow-up, or if the report doesn’t meet the standards of the State’s legal definition of child abuse and neglect, it results in screening out. In the latter situation, the CPS worker(s) may refer the reporting person to the law enforcement or other community organizations for additional assistance.

It takes CPS workers typically a few hours or a couple of days after a report is screened in. However, their response depends entirely on the category of abuse and maltreatment and the potential severity of the incident. The CPS caseworkers then proceed to talk to the parents or other caregivers of the affected child and teachers, healthcare providers, and other people the child is in contact with. Children who are believed to be in immediate danger are instantly moved to a shelter or a relative’s home while the investigation continues.

What Happens in Substantiated Cases?

If a report is substantiated, the child and parents' subsequent steps depend on their state and local policy. It also depends on the intensity of the maltreatment, an assessment of the child's safety, an assessment of the available services and whether they fulfill the family's needs, the risk of continued neglect, and whether the child's removal from home is the only way to protect them from the prompted maltreatment. Furthermore, when the report is validated as a result of a court hearing, the court can order the neglected child's parents to comply with the child protection services and alleviate the neglect/ abuse. Court orders can also comprise regulated visitation provisions between the parents and the affected children.

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