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Scandalous Politics

Child Welfare Policy in the States

Juliet F. Gainsborough

Publication Year: 2010

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 sta

Published by: Georgetown University Press

Series: American Governance and Public Policy series


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pp. vii

List of Illustrations

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pp. ix

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pp. xi-xii

The idea for this book came from my experience as a volunteer on a Miami-Dade County Citizen Review Panel in Florida, which heard the cases of children in the foster system in lieu of a judge. The 2002 Rilya Wilson scandal occurred while I served on the panel; and as a political scientist and as someone who cared about the child welfare system, I was struck by several features of the scandal’s aftermath...

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xiii

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1 Introduction: Child Welfare and the Politics of Scandal

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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...

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2 The Swinging Pendulum: Child Welfare Policy at the National Level

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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...

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3 States, Scandals, and Child Welfare Policy

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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...

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4 Florida: Scandal, Electoral Politics, and Leadership Change

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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....

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5 Colorado: Investigative Journalism, Local Control, and Minor Reform

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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...

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6 New Jersey: Scandals, Courts, and Ongoing Reform

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pp. 119-142

In January 2003 two boys, seven-year-old Raheem Williams and four-yearold 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...

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7 Conclusion: Scandalous Politics

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pp. 143-165

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...

Appendix 1: Testimony at Congressional Hearings on Child Welfare

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pp. 167-172

Appendix 2: Data Sources and Descriptive Statistics for Chapter 3

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pp. 173-175


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pp. 177-190

Selected Interviews

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pp. 191-193


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pp. 195-207

E-ISBN-13: 9781589016156
E-ISBN-10: 1589016157
Print-ISBN-13: 9781589017078
Print-ISBN-10: 1589017072

Page Count: 216
Illustrations: 5 figures, 12 tables
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: American Governance and Public Policy series