Child Protective Services System: Philosophy & Purpose

Instructor: Kenneth Poortvliet

Kenneth has a JD, practiced law for over 10 years, and has taught criminal justice courses as a full-time instructor.

Every state in the United States has a child protective service system. In this lesson, we will learn the philosophy and purpose of the system, and how it works to achieve its purpose.

The Least of These

Children are the most vulnerable of us. They need physical, emotional, and psychological care so they can properly develop and turn into well-adjusted adults. But what happens when their caregivers become part of the problem and neglect their responsibility? Or worse, what if they actually do harm to the children? To address these problems, all 50 states have created a system of protective services. So how does the system operate? What is its philosophy and purpose?

Why Have Child Protective Services?

Child protective services (CPS) is a government department that works to serve the public by protecting children. Although the name is often different, each state has a similar system. In a perfect world, families would be safe and nurturing places for children to grow and thrive. But the world is not perfect, and children often need the support and protection from someone outside the family. The philosophy and purpose of CPS is shaped by this reality. It is to protect and support families to ensure the safety and well-being of children.

Philosophy and Purpose of CPS

CPS's primary purpose is to respond to the needs of at-risk children to ensure their physical and emotional safety and well-being. The Child Welfare Information Gateway, which is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, provides support and resources for the various state child welfare agencies including CPS, and provides a proposed guide for the training of state caseworkers. Many states have adopted this in full or in part for the education and training of their caseworkers.

The manual provides seven philosophical tenants that outline the purpose of CPS and become guiding principles in caseworkers' duties:

  1. The best place for children to grow up is in and with a safe and permanent family.
  2. Most parents want to be good parents, and when adequately supported, they have the strength and capacity to care for their children and keep them safe.
  3. Families who need assistance from CPS agencies are diverse in terms of structure, culture, race, religion, economic status, beliefs, values, and lifestyles.
  4. CPS agencies are held accountable for achieving outcomes of child safety, permanence, and family well-being.
  5. CPS efforts are most likely to succeed when clients are involved and actively participate in the process.
  6. When parents do not fulfill their responsibilities to protect their children, CPS has the right and obligation to intervene.
  7. When children are placed in out-of-home care because their safety cannot be assured, CPS should develop a permanency plan as soon as possible.

How Does This Work?

When a complaint comes in, CPS must then determine if further action is necessary. If so, then a case is initiated, and a caseworker is assigned. The actions of the caseworker are guided by three core principles that provide an overview of the goals of CPS.

  1. All people have a reservoir of untapped, renewable, and expandable abilities (mental, physical, emotional, social, and spiritual) that can be used to facilitate change.
  2. Each child has a right to a permanent family.
  3. Each child and family member should be empowered to work toward his or her own needs and goals.

Keeping the philosophical tenants and core principles in mind, CPS follows certain key practice protocols that will assist in finding solutions to specific problems. They are:

  • Initial assessment or investigation. Typically this will be the first contact with the family to assess any immediate concerns and determine if more action is necessary.
  • Comprehensive family assessment. If warranted, then a more comprehensive assessment is conducted after further contact with all members of the family.
  • Planning. A plan is created that addresses the specific needs of the family. This plan might include monitoring, education, parental training, counseling, financial resources, and various other services that might assist the family.
  • Service provision. The plan is implemented and monitored to evaluate the effectiveness of the services and resources used by the family.
  • Case closure. When CPS determines the goals are met and the circumstances require no further monitoring or plan revisions, the case is closed.

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