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Scandalous Politics

Scandalous Politics: Child Welfare Policy in the States

Juliet F. Gainsborough
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
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    Scandalous Politics
    Book Description:

    Little work has been done to systematically analyze how high-profile incidents of child neglect and abuse shape child welfare policymaking in the United States. In Scandalous Politics, Juliet Gainsborough presents quantitative analysis of all fifty states and qualitative case studies of three states (Florida, Colorado, and New Jersey) that reveal how well-publicized child welfare scandals result in adoption of new legislation and new administrative procedures. Gainsborough's quantitative analysis suggests that child welfare policymaking is frequently reactive, while the case studies provide more detail about variations and the legislative process. For example, the case studies illustrate how the nature and extent of the policy response varies according to particular characteristics of the political environment in the state and the administrative structure of the child welfare system. Scandalous Politics increases our understanding of the politics of child welfare at both the state and federal level and provides new insights into existing theories of agenda-setting and the policy process. It will be of interest to everyone involved with child welfare policymaking and especially public policy and public administration scholars.

    eISBN: 978-1-58901-615-6
    Subjects: Political Science
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface (pp. xi-xii)
  5. List of Abbreviations (pp. xiii-xiv)
  6. Chapter One Introduction: Child Welfare and the Politics of Scandal (pp. 1-23)

    As these synopses of articles illustrate, state child welfare policy is frequently characterized by scandal. When a child is removed from his or her parents only to be abused in foster care, or when a child remains with, or is returned to, his or her biological parents only to be harmed again, the child welfare system can become the object of not only state scrutiny but sometimes national scrutiny. Because of the high visibility of these incidents, observers of child welfare policy commonly make the argument that policymaking is largely reactive that “child welfare policy is set by a pendulum...

  7. Chapter Two The Swinging Pendulum: Child Welfare Policy at the National Level (pp. 24-50)

    Discussions of child welfare policy often invoke the metaphor of a pendulum, arguing that child welfare policy swings back and forth from an emphasis on family preservation and reunification to an emphasis on child removal and termination of parental rights. According to this view, the scandal-driven nature of child welfare policy means that when a scandal in which children are harmed by their parents captures headlines, policymakers push for legislation that promotes faster removal of children. Alternatively, when headlines focus on children who are languishing in foster care or children who have been harmed by a foster parent, policymakers push...

  8. Chapter Three States, Scandals, and Child Welfare Policy (pp. 51-71)

    In 2000 the Connecticut Department of Children and Families was criticized when a three-year-old was killed by his out-of-state foster parent. The agency had sent the child to live with a pre-adoptive foster family in Florida without following established procedures, including completion of a background check on the prospective parents. The boy, who suffered from cerebral palsy, died of suffocation when his foster father wrapped him tightly in a blanket and left him in a bed to punish him for soiling his pants. He had only been in the foster home for a week.

    In 2001 in Wisconsin, the child...

  9. Chapter Four Florida: Scandal, Electoral Politics, and Leadership Change (pp. 72-95)

    In 2002 Florida’s child welfare system received national attention when it was discovered that five-year-old Rilya Wilson had been missing from her foster home for fifteen months without anyone from the Department of Children and Families (DCF) noticing.¹ Her caretakers reported that someone claiming to be from DCF had removed the girl from their home for a medical evaluation and then not returned her. DCF had no record of any such removal. Rilya’s disappearance was initially uncovered after her caseworker, Deborah Muskelly, was discovered falsifying visitation reports in another case. After the caseworker resigned, the case was transferred to a...

  10. Chapter Five Colorado: Investigative Journalism, Local Control, and Minor Reform (pp. 96-118)

    In the first few months of 1999 the child welfare system in Colorado was shaken by the unrelated deaths of four children who were known to the child welfare system and whose deaths appeared preventable. All four deaths received extensive newspaper coverage, first in the Denver Post and then in other newspapers around the state.

    The coverage initially focused on the deaths of two children in the span of a week (Callahan and Wheeler 1999). In one of them, Precious Hickman, a three-month-old baby whose mother had been investigated three times for child neglect, drowned in the bathtub as her...

  11. Chapter Six New Jersey: Scandals, Courts, and Ongoing Reform (pp. 119-142)

    In January 2003 two boys, seven-year-old Raheem Williams and four-year-old Tyrone Hill, were found locked and abused in a basement in Newark, New Jersey. The decomposed body of their brother, seven-year-old Faheem Williams, was found the following day in a storage bin in the same basement. Their mother, Melinda Williams, had apparently left her sons with a friend, Sherry Murphy (the woman in whose basement the boys were found), while she served a prison sentence. New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) had recorded numerous contacts with the mother over many years, beginning when she was a teenager...

  12. Chapter Seven Conclusion: Scandalous Politics (pp. 143-166)

    This chapter highlights points of contrast and comparison in the way states respond to child welfare scandals. Both the quantitative and qualitative analyses suggest that well-publicized child welfare scandals result in adoption of new legislation and new administrative procedures. Although the quantitative analysis finds no link between scandal and spending, the qualitative analysis suggests that in some instances scandal may result in at least temporary increases in resources.¹ Protess et al. (1991) explore the link between investigative journalism—“muckraking”—and public policy and find three kinds of governmental response to media exposure of problems:

    1. Deliberative response—“official commitments to...

  13. Appendix 1: Testimony at Congressional Hearings on Child Welfare (pp. 167-172)
  14. Appendix 2: Data Sources and Descriptive Statistics for Chapter 3 (pp. 173-176)
  15. References (pp. 177-190)
  16. Selected Interviews (pp. 191-194)
  17. Index (pp. 195-207)