In your county, people call in to report child abuse and neglect. The call-in center staff decide if that call merits an investigation. Even if a call is not transferred to investigations, it should raise a red flag and be considered a sign that a family may be in trouble.

Referring struggling families to “services” without actually knowing if they exist


The call (of suspected maltreatment) came in from a school, concerned about a student’s bruises and signs of malnutrition.
Investigator Ian interviews student Eric who says the bruises on his back and neck and from tumbling off his bike. He says his family feeds him and feels fine.
Investigator Ian meets with Eric’s mom Noelle. She confirms the bike accident and explains that money has been very tight since she and her boyfriend lost their jobs working in the local restaurants and hotels when the pandemic and lockdown hit.
Investigator Ian does interviews with the live-in boyfriend and Eric’s older sister. All people living in a household where maltreatment is suspected are interviewed. All the stories paint a picture of a caring family that is struggling to make it through the economic disruption.
Investigator Ian closes Eric’s case. No maltreatment. Yet Eric’s problems are not over. Not by a long shot.
Investigator Ian recognized that Eric and his family were struggling to pay bills to keep food on the table and stable housing. Noelle talked about trying to find training for a new job and hitting roadblocks. Ian gave Noelle a list of “services” and wished her the best.
Child Welfare staff use the phrase “referring families to services” all the time. What most county child welfare offices don’t do is assess the vital service for surviving and thriving to determine if they truly exist in any real-world way. Child Welfare staff do their best to link families to the services that do appear to exist.
Child Welfare is not funded nor staffed to assess the capacity of local services to meet the needs of parents and youth. The child protective services workforce, made up of truly caring staff, don’t have the bandwidth to assess the user-friendliness of their county’s health care system, and food and housing security programs.
Who? Which organization? Which elected body? If you think about, where does it say that anybody has to ensure the services for surviving and thriving? It’s certainly not a law or written policy approved by county or city government. Child Welfare only steps in when lack of services results in child neglect.
Every city and county is different. Perhaps your county is a shining example of ensuring vital services to keep 100% of kids safe and families stabilized. Your local elected leaders certainly have the capacity to collaborate to create well-resourced communities to keep kids from being abused, neglected and traumatized.
The return on investment (ROI) for ensuring vital services arrives with a decrease in families involved with child welfare, law enforcement and the courts. The ROI also means resilient families, successful students, job readiness and tax-paying job holders.

Note: Child welfare is a massive system with thousands of moving parts. In my former life, part of my job within the Child Protective Services Research, Assessment and Data Bureau was to design flow charts to document the child protective services process for employees. I have shared a very simplified version of an investigation. In this story, Eric’s suspected case of maltreatment was not substantiated. If maltreatment was substantiated, Eric could enter deeper into the “system” to encounter more case workers, foster care placement specialists, foster parents, permanency specialists and youth support workers.

Mobilize! Survive! Thrive!

Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? Push to front of reading list: 100% Community: Ensuring 10 vital services for surviving and thriving and Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras: Confronting Apathy, Envy and Fear on the road to saving humans and the future. Better yet, let‘s meet at the EYE bookcafe to share a latte and some bold ideas.



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Dominic Cappello

A NY Times bestselling author, social justice activist, Oprah guest, co-author of Attack of the Three-Headed Hydras, 100% Community and Anna, Age Eight.