The development of a protocol for the management of child abuse and neglect
Barnes-September, Roseline Lynnette
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The primary intent of this study was to seek solutions to the practical problems experienced by practitioners in their management of child abuse cases. A fundamental problem regarding the current management of child abuse is that there is no guarantee that a child entering the child protective system will be dealt with in terms of a set procedure and/or protected against further abuse. To address this problem in the Western Cape, the Intervention Research (IR) methodology (Rothman & Thomas, 1994) was used to develop a Protocol for the Multi- Disciplinary Management of Child Abuse and Neglect. The protocol was designed for agencies that intervene in instances of child abuse. It establishes criteria and procedures for interdisciplinary co-ordination and effective case management, delineates the professional roles and responsibilities and provides step-by-step intervention procedures. The Intervention Research Design and Development methodology provided a useful framework to apply social science research methods to child protective practice and policy reform. IR focuses on the design of practice guidelines for intervention and policy reform. It can be conducted in a diversity of practice settings and therefore enhances collaborative efforts and inter-agency exchange among practitioners and among practitioners and universities. The study evolved through six phases involving inter-as well as intra-disciplinary activities. These activities were guided by systematic and deliberate research procedures, techniques and instruments. The research phases included: problem analysis; information gathering and synthesis; the development and design of the protocol; testing the protocol through a process of workshops and finally, the launch and dissemination of the protocol. A core element of the study was the active participation and collaboration of a broad range of key stakeholders, including: victims of child abuse, their families, service providers, and policy makers. The methods and instruments used were therefore designed to enhance participation and included interviews, workshops and observation of court processes. The bottom-up approach and collaborative design enhanced the level of contextual relevance, ownership and the commitment of stakeholders. As a demonstration of this commitment, the protocol has been endorsed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health and Social Services of the Western Cape. The Department of Social Services has committed financial support to the project and is pilot testing it in three districts. The study cautions that protocols alone cannot eradicate and solve all the problems in the child protective field and asserts that there is an urgent and critical need to develop and to implement a National Strategy on Child Abuse. Such a National strategy should include legislation that supports and enforces all aspects of a national policy on child abuse. At minimum, national policy should ensure consistent political will and leadership. This means that broad statements about the obligations of politicians and state officials is not enough. These should be followed by specific accountability and measuring mechanisms for enforcement. State policy should also provide guidelines for standardized and appropriate working conditions, recruitment and training of staff. Furthermore, it should provide for a broad array of effective and accessible services to all children and families and the co-ordination of such services. Finally, legislation should include specific obligations regarding the appropriation of adequate and flexible funding to see that commitments made to children are realised.