The fine line between saving kids from trauma and making things worse
Last week, a Kids Count report had this shocking statistic to share; almost one out of every 10 kids in Michigan lives in a family investigated for abuse or neglect.
Those investigations start with a phone call or a knock on the door. For parents who find a Child Protective Service (CPS) worker on the other end, it’s a moment that could change everything.
The goal of any CPS investigation is to make sure kids are safe. Abuse is often hidden and hard to catch. A kid could die or be seriously injured if those investigators make a mistake.
The number of these investigations has gone way up since about a decade ago. At the same time, the investigations that lead to a case of confirmed child abuse or neglect are going down. There are only about 25% of those cases.
These cases that aren’t confirmed are important, too.
There are two concerns with unconfirmed cases. Either abuse is happening and it's being missed or, kids are being unnecessarily traumatized by investigations when there is no abuse.
Investigations are traumatizing for kids because:
- They’re unexpected. Investigations begin within 24 hours of CPS receiving a report of suspected abuse or neglect, leaving no time for kids or parents to prepare.
- They’re confusing, especially for younger kids.
- Being investigated can be incredibly stressful for families, and puts kids living in households with abuse at higher risk.
Is there a better way?
Maybe not, but there are ways to make the investigation process better and provide kids and families with more support.
Even when investigations aren’t confirmed – and remember, 75% aren’t – kids might still be in danger. A pilot program for high-risk families with young kids was implemented in Macomb, Muskegon and Kalamazoo this year to connect these investigated families with extra services. That can hopefully decrease the risk of future abuse. The program is called Protect MiFamily, and there are just shy of 140 families involved. DHS reports that over 93% of people involved with the program say they feel it has helped connect them with resources they need.
Since infants are three times as likely to be removed from their home as older kids, Michigan is trying to do a better job of addressing the importance of attachment for babies in investigated families. DHS has joined with the Michigan Association for Infant Mental Health to make sure policies recognize the special needs of infants removed from their homes.
No matter the result of an investigation, that process is extremely stressful for kids. But as of right now, it’s the only way we know how to protect them. Or try to, at least.