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Journal Issue: Protecting Children from Abuse and Neglect Volume 8 Number 1 Spring 1998

Past, Present, and Future Roles of Child Protective Services
Patricia A. Schene


Contemporary social issues typically spring from historical roots, and, as this article points out, that is particularly true of the effort to find a balanced, fair, and helpful way of responding to child abuse and neglect. This article examines how today's child protective services system evolved from a past of almshouses, orphan trains, anticruelty societies, and legislation establishing the protection of children as a government function. The author finds that the history of child protection in the United States is marked by a continuing, unresolved tension between the aim of rescuing children from abusive homes and that of strengthening the care their families can provide. Against that backdrop, this article explains the structure of the typical child protective services (CPS) agency (the unit within a broader public child welfare department that focuses on abuse and neglect) and outlines the roles in child protection that are played by the police, the courts, private and public social service agencies, and the community at large. According to the author's analysis, the fundamental challenges facing CPS can be captured in two questions regarding appropriate boundaries for the agency: Which situations require the agency's intervention? And how can the broader resources of the community be mobilized in the effort to protect children?