McGeorge School of Law

Child Protection in America: Past, Present, and Future written by Distinguished Professor John Myers published by Oxford University Press (2005)

Professor John Myers

Professor John Myers

Child abuse and neglect are intractable social problems exacting a terrible toll on children and tearing the social fabric. What can be done to reduce the suffering? If there were simple solutions to abuse and neglect they would have been discovered long ago. There are no easy answers. This book has two overarching purposes. First, to advance the search for realistic policies that will reduce the amount of child maltreatment. Second, because it is not possible to prevent all maltreatment, the book sets forth concrete proposals to improve the child protection system that is in place across America.

Before it is feasible to design viable improvements to today’s child protection system, it is necessary to understand the origins of the system. Part I of the book traces the history of child protection in America from colonial days to the dawn of the twenty-first century. Among the subjects described in Part I are the rise and gradual disappearance of orphanages, creation and growth of foster care, birth of organized child protection in 1874, spread of nongovernmental societies to prevent cruelty to children, and the twentieth century transition from nongovernmental child protection to government funded and operated child protection.

With the historical foundation in place, Part II describes the principle causes of child maltreatment, including intergenerational transmission of maltreatment, poverty, substance abuse, violence in American culture, excessive corporal punishment, sexual deviance, an evolutionary predisposition to abuse, parental mental illness, domestic violence, and deliberate abuse.

Once the causes of maltreatment are clear, it possible to create solutions. Part II analyzes policies to reduce abuse and neglect including combating poverty, expanding use of nurse home visiting programs, increased day care, strengthening the sense of community, outlawing corporal punishment, rethinking attitudes toward alcohol, lowering the toxicity in popular culture, and fighting deliberate abuse.

It will never be possible to prevent all maltreatment. Thus, it is critical to strengthen the existing child protection system. To that end, Part II describes attainable reforms that will materially improve child protection, including dealing with the lingering effects of racism in child welfare, reworking the funding mechanisms of child welfare, refocusing leadership in child protection, creating a less adversarial child protection system, strengthening foster care, and reinventing the juvenile court.

This book brings together in one convenient location the thinking of leading reformers of the child welfare system from the 1850s to the early twenty-first century. Some of the proposals in Part II have been in play more than a century. Others are new.