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Introduction- A View from the Trench
This book is about the evolution of child welfare services over the last half century, beginning after World War II. Since these services have been dominated by government and bureaucratized during that time, it is appropriate to visualize them as a small box within the larger box of the social services that, in turn, is totally encased by the world of public affairs, a world characterized by the interplay of political and bureaucratic forces.
I have chosen to examine child welfare leadership emphases and their consequences for shaping child welfare services as a field of work. I have done what I could to provide a studied account, but I do not pretend that it is free from personal bias nor do I apologize for the fact that it isn’t.
I have been an eyewitness to the entire era. I have encountered many of those who gave early direction to this field, either personally or through their associates, and since 1960 I have been an active participant as a street worker, graduate student, educator, researcher, administrator, consultant, microcomputer program developer, and advocate.
These travels have occurred in a Trench that separates Theory from Practice Wisdom. From this lowly but interesting vantage point, I have chosen to report on leadership emphases as they have been expressed within the arenas of policy, management, education, research, and information technology. Across them all there is a consistent emphasis upon growth, justified by escalating demand, which the field itself measures and has a hand in stimulating. Over the course of several decades steady growth has been achieved, but supply has never quite caught up with demand. Something is amiss in this equation, and it can be traced to the choices the field’s leadership has made and pursued.
1. In the policy arena, where the choice is between the roles of interpreter or mediator, we have opted for building a bureaucratic monolith powerful enough to presume to speak for the public interest and our own clientele’s needs, rather than finding ways to enable the two parties to better speak directly with one another and for themselves.
2. In the management arena, where the choice is between controlling work performance or relying on worker competence, we have chosen to distrust the competence of subordinates and clients alike and to emphasize the refinement of outmoded hierarchical authority structures.
3. In the education arena, where the choice is between cultivating an accepting state of mind or an inquiring state of mind, we have chosen to borrow ideas, and we presented them as self-evident truths rather than developing a scientifically validated knowledge base.
4. In the research arena, where the choice is between confirming what we do and how we do it or pushing back the frontiers of ignorance through discovery, we have elected to pursue confirmation.
5. In the information technology arena, where the choice is between preserving privilege or promoting communication, we have chosen traditional methods of communication and preservation of a tower of babble built of a bewildering mix of specialized terminologies, rather than accelerating the exchange of ideas by using new technology to facilitate the search for a common language.
In sum, one part of my message is that these mutually reinforcing leadership emphases have been successful in sustaining sheer growth in size through the good times of the ’60s and the bad times that followed, but only at the expense of alienating the public and those the field serves.
The other part of my message is that these leadership emphases, which served the field’s self-interests so well, have become liabilities as the 1990s open with a shift in public mood toward services oriented to child behavior competency development, a shift prompted by changes in the world marketplace and the nation’s economy in recent years. There is a clear need for redirecting leadership away from traditional emphases on behavior problem reduction and towards a mediator role, trust in worker and client competencies, the cultivation of an inquiring state of mind among students and staff, discovery and validation of new knowledge, and pursuit of a common language.
We have created services that are out of joint with the times and have made ourselves a huge target for rising public dissatisfaction and client hostility. The future of child welfare services is in serious doubt and turns on whether new leadership can be found in time to reverse their present course.
Writing this book took more than a year, largely because I discovered early on that nearly every point I thought important enough to write about raised questions with which I had long tussled and for which I had yet to find convincing answers. It struck me that I had not derived sensible answers for many of them, because I had found it convenient to settle for facile answers. Put bluntly, I had evaded the difficulties that would have been encountered in trying to answer them in a more substantive fashion.
But if I was to meet the challenge of determining the weight and substance of my travels, this time I would have to deal with these questions head on. I further decided that the best way to do this was to make these difficult questions the structural framework for the chapters on policy, management, education, research, and information technology.
With this in mind I devised a fictional interviewer, “BB,” and composed five topical interviews. This device offers the reader the opportunity to determine not only if I’m right, but also whether I posed the right questions in the right ways. What follows, with allowance for editorial license, is the substance of our exchanges.
That’s hard to say. There are straight-line paths for qualifying to become academicians and practitioners, those who populate its opposing sides. Trench dwellers are there because they couldn’t find comfortable role requirements on either side, or they wound up making the wrong career choices, or the right ones at the wrong time. Many of my associates in the Trench followed circuitous routes to it, much as I did.
Many on both sides still do not know it is there. I entered public child welfare work in Chicago on the recommendation of a friend that doing so would tide me over between jobs as a commercial artist and entered street gang work in response to a taunt from another acquaintance that I was not cut out for it.
This work lasted five years, during which I annually filed applications to prominent graduate schools for the morale boost that would attend occasional acceptances. The Dean of the Tulane School of Social Work fouled this amusement by calling my office and offering me admission. As I approached graduation, I traveled to the University of Wisconsin School of Social Work to interview for a field instructor’s job. Instead, they offered me a child welfare doctoral stipend.
With Ph.D. in hand, I left ten years of practice and student role playing behind and crossed over to academia, where I spent the ensuing eight years successfully chasing research grants. Dabbling in the production of empirical information led me to see the contrast between theory and practice wisdom and how little the formation of each was based on the other. I began to realize that I was peering into the Trench. I helped form a private, non-profit research institute, assumed its leadership, and took a leap to the bottom, where I have spent the better part of the last 16 years.
YOU REFER TO CHILD WELFARE
AND CHILD WELFARE SERVICES.
WHAT DO YOU MEAN BY THOSE TERMS?
The world of public affairs is charged with responding to public concerns about that portion of the nation’s children whose futures are deemed to be endangered by their own behavior and/or by exposure to circumstances that cause or threaten to cause physical or mental harm. The search for response mechanisms has led to the evolution of the many services that make up the child welfare field. The proliferation of these services created a need for a coherent definition while making the task of arriving at one difficult. The conventional practice has been to substitute a form of intellectual accounting for a more discrete definition. This approach describes the field in terms of a list of services by categories, problems addressed, and numbers of children served. This leaves us with a “definition” of the child welfare field as the aggregate of what child welfare services workers do (Fanshel, 1966, pp. 88-143; Kadushin, 1974).
This method of drawing boundaries around the child welfare field remains in common use. The child welfare field today can be said to consist of services provided to the 400 thousand-plus children in foster family care (No Place to Call Home, 1989, p. 5); perhaps another 75 to 100 thousand in private residential group care, and equivalent numbers residing in mental health residential treatment facilities (Dougherty, Sax, Cross & Silverman, 1987) and in juvenile delinquency facilities (Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, 1989, p. 27); somewhere between 500 thousand to 1 million runaway and “throwaway” children living in shelters, make-shift arrangements, and the streets (Growing Numbers of Homeless Youth, 1990, p. A3); undocumented numbers of children receiving family based services; additional numbers attending therapeutic day service programs or alternative schools under public and private auspices; and some of the millions of younger children in full and part-time day care programs.
Service groupings are continually being added to the pot-most recently crack cocaine babies and children of parents who carry the HIV virus. The practice of combining problem types (drug use) with age groups (teens), service methods (group treatment), and settings (day treatment centers) to manufacture ever greater numbers of more finely defined service categories is in evidence everywhere.
The field’s boundaries can be delimited somewhat by focusing only on services delivered under public and private social services auspices, but since fragmentation by problem or specialization is well advanced even under these auspices, this more tightly circumscribed description would add little or nothing to definitional precision.
Drawing boundaries around behavioral problems and adding up the pieces to define the field has its advantages. It establishes boundaries (a) between the behaviorally problematic (eligible) portion of the population and the rest, (b) between practice specialties that permits drafting neatly compartmentalized organizational charts, (c) between organizations and programs supportive of the concept of the aggregate as a single continuum of care entity, and (d) between this entity’s behavior problem reduction function and the behavior competency development functions performed by other non-family systems that serve children, such as the schools.
It also has drawbacks, the most obvious being the absence of a unifying vision or sense of purpose, other than that we all claim to be in the business of behavior problem reduction. Beyond that there are as many ways to seek that result as there are practice specialties, programs, and agencies. The way we define ourselves shapes the way others see us. Like it or not-and most don’t-to qualify for services children and families must first suffer the stigma of being designated as behaviorally problematic. By accepting our claims to special expertise in solving child and family-related behavioral problems, the broader public expects the same-no more and no less. Of most importance, narrowing our clients’ roles has the effect of narrowing our vision to the problematic side of human behavior and to devising methods to overcome client resistance.
We have painted ourselves into a corner. Our options for changing the field’s definition are limited to adding new problem-oriented specialties and inventing new ways to gain client acceptance of negative labels, which the field often mistakes for “building rapport.” All of this serves to further distance us from clients, making them “harder to reach” and “more difficult to serve” (Thomas, 1984), and from mainstream concerns with child behavior competency development. The dilemma posed is that with each boundary we draw to give the field more descriptive clarity, we risk becoming ever less responsive to public demand and those we serve.
Redefining the field as behavior competency development offers a way out. It would provide a unifying sense of purpose to counteract the endless fractionalization that results from pursuing child behavior problem reduction, put us back in touch with mainstream concerns, and make allies of our clients. This shift would reshape the field. It would ally the field with other competency oriented institutions like the schools. Much of what we do would be subjected to comparative scrutiny and it is likely that some of our problem-oriented specializations would not survive.
A redefinition of the field would free us from our narrow view of overwhelmed clients and resource-deficient communities. This would make it far easier to identify capacities in children and their families for self-care and self-direction as well as people in their own communities capable and interested in assisting them. We could find “Aunt Marys”-neighbors willing to provide respite, day care, and/or safe haven for tired and threatened mothers and their children; “cheerleaders”-cops, ministers, coaches, uncles, and older peers who really like and would be willing to help individual youths in trouble; and enough qualified volunteers to provide a flesh and blood legal custodian for every child in need of one.
These could be found just by asking around, making connections as needed, and getting out of the way. Maybe the communities we work in are not as resource deficient as we think. Maybe people who could help remain beyond our sight because they do not want to be associated with services that condition help on accepting problematic definitions and statuses.
Defining the field from a behavior competency development perspective would require taking all the variability represented by client strengths and community resources into account. The boundaries describing the field would become less distinct, but all those doing the work would be bound together by a common purpose. While the behavior problem reduction perspective offers a description of the field that is far more crisp in appearance, behind the orderly array of boundaries that separates problem specializations are clients and communities that often work at cross purposes. The field’s behavior problem reduction perspective prevents the development of consensus among service providers, clients, and the public over what the child welfare field is and does. In the absence of common understanding, the best that can be done is to describe the child welfare field as the aggregate of that which child welfare workers do.
WHY IS THERE A TRENCH BETWEEN THE WORLDS
OF THEORY AND PRACTICE WISDOM,
AND HOW HAVE THE TWO SIDES DEALT WITH IT?
There was a time, a long time, spanning the modern era in child welfare, from the beginning of the century up to the War on Poverty years, during which practice was shaped and directed by two separate, loosely defined worlds: The world of human behavior theory, lodged in academia, and the world of child-centered practice wisdom, as gathered by practitioners and scattered haphazardly among themselves across a variety of service settings and agencies.
Under optimal conditions the two worlds would have fit together seamlessly, working in tandem to empirically validate theory and to evaluate the efficacy of practice by independent standards held together by theory, a beautiful partnership that progressively advances the state of the art in child welfare for the benefit of children and the public that pays the bill.
But this was not the way things worked out. When the levels of effort that were invested over those decades in theory building, accumulating practice wisdom, and producing empirically derived information are examined, the latter (which is the glue that should bind the other two together) comes up short. The Trench has existed from the very beginning. It is such an integral part of the child welfare field that many do not even perceive its existence or its effect on practice.
By the mid-1960s neither side had spent much effort empirically testing what the other had to offer. Theory had come to represent just about any form of thought that met some minimal internal standard for consistency in the use of metaphor and specialized terminology, while practice wisdom had come to represent any body of observations about how best to work with children as confirmed by the “weight of the evidence,” that is, by how long the possessor had been at the task of accumulating it. The Trench between the two was already quite wide and continuing to widen.
The way to level the Trench that offers the best prospect of advancing the state of the art and maximizing benefits for children and the paying public would be to devote larger proportions of the labor pool on both sides to the task. This could be accomplished by educating line staff in the discipline of conducting empirical research on the job, equipping them with the tools of the trade, and making use of them an integral part of their jobs. This ground work could be accomplished by redirecting existing training resources to the task of orienting staff to (a) a research perspective in framing questions, (b) collecting data and analyzing it in their daily work, and (c) reorienting their superiors to utilizing the products of this new work perspective. Research skills are not the exclusive property of a tiny coterie of specialists. There is no good reason to believe either that line staff could not learn to incorporate basic research skills in their work or that doing so would make their work more time consuming or difficult to perform than when it is performed in order to follow bureaucratic prescriptions.
The major advantage would be the creation of a sound methodology for capturing and evaluating practice wisdom. Suppose that an agency imports a risk assessment instrument to improve worker estimates of the risk of child abuse in family households. Ordinarily line staff are trained in procedures for the appropriate use of such an instrument and sent on their way. At some later point management might ask line staff for information to determine the instrument’s effectiveness. The quality of the information sent up the ladder is likely to be diminished by faulty memory, biasing influences of comments from colleagues, and other ad hoc impressions.
On the other hand, if line staff were trained from the start to register remarks in the course of their work about which risk factors seem irrelevant, confusing, and/or contradictory when applied to various types of family situations, such information would not only provide a sound basis for judging the value of the instrument, it would be also be available on demand. The point is that a research perspective can and should serve to inform practice bottom to top. If child welfare organizations were to take the initiative by accepting responsibility for researching their work in an on-going manner, the Trench could be eliminated.
Unfortunately the two sides long ago found another way to deal with the Trench, one that was of immediate benefit to both but of questionable benefit to children and the public. Rather than undertaking research related efforts needed to eliminate it, the two sides built a bridge over it, created from mutually beneficial trade-offs that permitted practice wisdom to borrow theory to cover itself in a cloak of credibility, while permitting theory to be validated by the fact that it was being applied in practice. This enabled both sides to validate what they were doing without having to invest resources in conducting the evaluations needed to independently confirm their claims to state of the art knowledge and practice skills.
The result was the development of mutually supportive, self-justifying conditions within which the body of human behavior theory could continue to be built and the body of child-centered practice wisdom could continue to be accumulated in unchallenged fashion. Both flourished, while the production of empirically derived information languished. Unchallenged theory and practice wisdom piled up on either side of the Trench, sending them skyward, which also widened the Trench as the sides lengthened.
This created a real engineering problem, because it demanded the devotion of ever greater resources and efforts to keep the span, over which traffic in credibility trade-offs was conducted, from collapsing. This is another way of saying that by the late 1960s the established ways of maintaining credibility in both worlds had been stretched thin. The sheer height and width of the Trench threatened to call public attention to it. Since the public was beginning to adopt greater sophistication in its calls for accountability in social welfare programs, ominous consequences that might result from the discovery of the Trench seemed imminent.
EXPLAIN YOUR VIEW THAT THEORY
AND PRACTICE WISDOM LIVED
IN PEACEFUL COEXISTENCE UNTIL THE WAR
ON POVERTY UPSET THINGS.
The War on Poverty program saved the day, or put off the time of reckoning. This initiative integrated the child welfare field into the massive new social welfare program structures, assigning it a remote corner. Becoming a part of this new structure lessened the field’s public visibility for a time, but it was also made party to a new set of influences that effected the development and operation of the larger structure.
The fundamental features of the War on Poverty years were centralization, in the federal government, of authority over the social service structure and massive expansion in the funding of services, giving them their start toward becoming “big business.” The fundamental effect within the structure was to give rise to the idea that the organization of social services, the way they were put together, was the key to the delivery of effective services.
New cadres of leaders devoted to organizational technology and informed in their use of it by their shared faith in planning, strategizing, short term goals, and fanciful problem definitions-what I refer to as the Core Commonalities of True Belief-rose to prominence on both sides of the Trench. This fueled a shift in conceptual priorities towards the construction of detailed plans that promised to resolve complex problems and towards the development of strategies to obtain funding by the quickest route possible. In sum, this signalled a turn away from logical reasoning to logistics, from idea formation to cleverness in manipulating ideas, from consideration of the long-term consequences of intervention to the short-term goal of implementation, and from enhancing the understanding of human behavior to postulating fanciful problem definitions. This was a turn away from theory and practice wisdom and a turn towards the mechanics of planning and procedural precision as the preferred basis for informing the delivery of services and measuring their effectiveness.
Within this new order, theory and practice wisdom were relegated to secondary importance and grew increasingly irrelevant, because the new leaders believed that their command of program resources provided them the wherewithal to engineer and manufacture social reality in ways that would produce desired social-services results at will. For these new gatekeepers of the bridge, the traffic in theory and practice wisdom across it proved to be an annoying and insupportable mix of noise and posturing that served only to muddy their simplified perceptions of social reality and to slow the pace of progress. Their best interests were served by reducing traffic to the content of the Core Commonalities of True Belief. Ending exchanges between leaders in academia and practice wisdom put an end to the mutual benefit rationale that sustained them and caused traffic across the bridge to dwindle.
Leaders on both sides concluded that their self-interests could now be realized without the help of the other through skillful planning and strategizing aimed at manipulating problem definitions to achieve short-term gains. The bridge was no longer needed because the use of theory and practice wisdom to cross-validate one another was no longer necessary. It fell into disuse and disrepair and eventually collapsed. Henceforth the merit in what was being done in academia and the field would be directly established by putting plans for desired states of social reality into place, brick by brick, box by organizational box.
Put another way, this new emphasis on organizational technology led immediately to defining the unit of service delivery to be a case, not a child. Costs would be calculated and paid on a per diem, per case basis; services would be case managed; and accountability would be assessed in terms of case number and activity tabulations. This shift paid a short-term dividend by removing any threat that the public might ask the child welfare field for an accounting of itself in terms of child development outcomes. Had such a demand been made things could have become very embarrassing, because the field had practically no base of empirically derived information with which to defend itself.
As things evolved, however, it became clear that in the adoption of the case as the unit of service, human behavior theory and child-centered practice wisdom would no longer play a central role in service delivery. Case labels and eligibility criteria had reduced the importance of conducting thorough behavioral assessments at intake. In addition, the kind of practice wisdom needed to deliver services was that of skillful execution of organizationally-derived policy, regulations, and practice methods. The delivery of highly defined, packaged or labeled services by prescribed approaches and schedules obviated the need for human behavior theory and child-centered practice wisdom in the service delivery process.
In directing services to cases and guiding their delivery by the best ethical standards of “uniformity, impartiality, and fairness” that the newly grown bureaucracies could muster, the personal characteristics and backgrounds of the children being served also lost their central importance. As an artifact of becoming cases, children’s personal identities were discounted.
The result was to disconnect both public and private child welfare service agencies and programs from their surrounding communities by tying them directly to centralized regulation and control. Federal initiatives established bureaucratically contrived definitions of client need, uniform payment standards for services delivered, and process measures for accountability. These new tools were passed to the states along with program monies that found their way into private agencies via purchase of service contracts. The speed with which the new structure of services became pervasive is reflected in the fact that as early as the mid-1970s private agencies serving children and families nationwide had become dependent on government for more than half of their total funding support (Gibleman & Demone, 1990, p. 7).
The promissory note embedded in all of this was that organization was the key to improving the delivery of services to children and their families. The child welfare field has had decades to prove the merits in that premise, but it has yet to deliver. The public’s patience is nearing exhaustion and it is on the brink of calling in the note. It is time to pay up or declare bankruptcy and begin the process of building a better way.
IF HOW THINGS ARE ORGANIZED
IS THE KEY TO EFFECTIVE SERVICES,
IS POOR ORGANIZATION THE CAUSE
OF INEFFECTIVE SERVICES?
That’s what logic would suggest and also the path that public thinking has taken in response to the evolution of the social services from the 1970s to the present. Over this time period, the social services have become a major industry in the United States, and their very size makes them the most visible and obvious targets when the public and clients become dissatisfied with what they are getting. Of course, the claim that organization is the key to effective service delivery has a good deal to do with planting the idea in the minds of the public and clients that organizations themselves are at fault for detected failures. Child welfare organizations have isolated themselves, leaving no one or no other source to blame. Having accumulated the means to define, deliver, affix charges for, and evaluate services, they had no further need for theory from the academy.
What they now needed from the academy was “nuts and bolts” advice on how to put the parts in place-how to operate in a “business-like” manner. During the 1970s child welfare organizations had easy access to governmental funds for “nuts and bolts” project work, which helped finance retooling the academy to provide the requisite graduates and consultation. Human behavior theory pertinent to understanding clients themselves gave way to helpful hints useful in shaping newly bureaucratized roles for clients in order to fit them to organizational processes. Service failures could no longer be fobbed off on the use of air-headed consultants or graduates of the academy who brought cockeyed human behavior theories with them into the practice arena.
Similarly, by severing line employees’ umbilical cords to their bodies of child-centered practice wisdom, child welfare organizations made them dependent upon organizationally contrived and sanctioned bodies of practice wisdom composed of prescriptions designed to insure the precise implementation of policies, procedures, and methods. This meant that the practice wisdom of line employees could no longer be blamed for service failures, because pointing the finger in this direction would be tantamount to blaming organizationally-sanctioned prescriptions for practice. By processes of elimination, the leaders of child welfare organizations had placed themselves squarely in the center of an ever more dissatisfied public’s sights.
The shift from children to cases as the service delivery unit had profound effects on life in the Trench. From the late 1960s onward the research and development purse grew progressively fatter. Correspondingly, the strings being pulled by newly flush government sponsors tightened around new research and development priorities. Human behavior theory and child development outcome research were squeezed out in the rush to underwrite the development of operational tools needed to run the growing bureaucracies. If it is possible to imagine, this slowed the snail pace at which work was being conducted to produce empirically-derived information suitable to testing the efficacy of human behavior theory and to evaluating services from a child-development outcome perspective.
Money fueled growth industries on both sides of the Trench as the academy, freed of the rigors and tedium of theory construction, spewed out “nuts and bolts” concepts and designs and graduates skilled in these arts, while practice consumed itself in perfecting a new case management-case accounting body of practice wisdom. Both sides of the Trench shot skyward by exponential leaps.
The newly bureaucratized service structure dismissed the checks and balances that existed when the child welfare field depended on an alliance between the worlds of human behavior theory and client-centered practice wisdom, both of which relied on bases of information located outside and beyond the reach of organizations. Granted, the credibility of these sources was highly suspect; still, they were at least sufficiently independent to provide a separate perspective from which the effectiveness of organizational operations could be assessed. From the War on Poverty to the present, a different standard gained precedence, one almost entirely under the control of child welfare organizations and devoted to case-centered service accountability. That standard took the form of the operational dictum: Process before People.
Those of us in the Trench watched the standing room at the tops of both sides shrink, as they grew and their slopes lengthened. The old worlds of theory and practice, redefined and outpaced by the rising importance of organizations in the service delivery process, ceded what remained of the high ground on both sides to organizational authority and its central concerns with planning and strategy.
One more thing was happening that was quite discernable at the bottom, but out of sight of those at the top. As organizational authority took control of the shrinking room at the top, ever larger numbers of former occupants fell, were shoved, or voluntarily jumped to the bottom, joining growing numbers of children and families that failed to qualify for services. The increasing distance between child welfare organizations and their critics and clients resulted from their single-minded pursuit of their own interests. Since they now controlled service definitions, along with almost everything else, it was easy to attribute this distance to the behavior of clients who were declared to be increasingly more “difficult to serve” and “harder to reach.” Clients at greatest remove, virtually out of sight and unreachable, were magnanimously awarded membership in the underclass (Jenks & Peterson, 1991).
The growing numbers of ill-served and unserved children and families on the floor of the Trench are being joined by increasing numbers of disaffected ex-employees and disaffiliated theorists, who bring with them valuable inside information about the workings of child welfare operations and ideas about how to do things in ways that might be better for children and the public. This body of information identifies child welfare organizations as the bad guys. Acceptance of that general theme is growing in the Trench and spreading beyond it. It is picking up steam as an explanation for the continuing plight of large numbers of children and providing the rationale for an intensifying search for a better alternative.
IF ORGANIZATIONS ARE THE TARGET
OF PUBLIC DISSATISFACTION BECAUSE THEY
HAVE EMPHASIZED “PROCESS BEFORE PEOPLE”
IN SERVICES, WHY DON’T THEY JUST REVERSE
“Process before People” has worked well for child welfare organizations for nearly three decades. Most of the people leading these organizations have spent their entire careers in organizations that operate this way, and many were taught in graduate schools that this is the way child and other social welfare organizations are best shaped and led. If the leadership knows services are being driven by the wrong dictum, they have to contend with their long standing promissory note to the public that well run organizational operations do produce effective services. To declare publicly that this promissory note is hollow would risk being held in contempt by one’s colleagues and being defined a traitor to the field. These are extremely powerful disincentives, given the massive investment that has been made over the last several decades in trying to prove that point. The public’s patience in waiting for organizations to deliver on this promise is growing very thin, but the public’s impatience seems to be producing paralysis among organizational leaders, not responsiveness.
Short of moving to adopt “People before Process,” which would require a “bottom-up” reversal in how services are delivered, the leaders of child welfare organizations seem to be stuck in a “no win” situation. They literally have no escape from blame, because in making organizations paramount in the service delivery process, they have left no one else to blame. Their choices are to defend their operations by showing that they are being run impeccably, which directs attention to the faulty structure of the operations, or they can admit to poor operational performance as the cause of poor service results, which invites the public to conclude that management is inept.
There is one possible and often used escape route: Try to blame service shortcomings on a lack of resources and call for more money, better staff, and the like. Unfortunately the public’s growing familiarity with how that one has worked out over the last several decades makes it ever less persuasive.
There would seem to be no good alternative to going to the Trench and investing in the production of empirical information on child-development outcomes capable of validating pertinent human behavior theory and child-centered practice wisdom. This would begin the process of moving toward a service structure driven by “People before Process,” but it would not be a reversion to the old worlds of invalidated theory and practice wisdom. The reentry of human behavior theory and child-centered practice wisdom would be in doses, as it is validated in terms of its established value in assessing and explaining successful and unsuccessful service initiatives. This is a service process that works from the “bottom-up” rather than from the “top-down,” one that has considerable potential for improving upon the capacity of the present approach to deliver benefits for children and the public.
There are those defenders of the faith who find the problem not with the way things are, but with the critics themselves. As one put it recently, “Reform is not a loving term. . . . So, why are people who profess such love for child welfare so bent on reforming it?” (Morton, 1990, p. 1).
Electronic Editor’s Note: This is the end of the first electronic installment. In the next installment, we will start with the following question:
DEFENDERS OF THE FAITH INSIST REFORM
IS UNNEEDED. DOES IT REALLY MAKE A
DIFFERENCE FOR KIDS WHETHER SERVICES
ARE GOVERNED BY “PROCESS BEFORE PEOPLE” OR VICE VERSA?
Readers are invited to send in their own answer to this question. The electronic editor will publish the best responses received. You can send your responses to the author, George Thomas, or the electronic editor, Tom Hanna.
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[Haworth co-indexing entry note]: “Introduction-A View from the Trench,” Thomas, George. Co-published simultaneously in Child & Youth Services (The Haworth Press, Inc.) Vol. 17, No. 1/2, 1994, pp. 1-31; and: Travels in the Trench Between Child Welfare Theory and Practice: A Case Study of Failed Promises and Prospects for Renewal (George Thomas) The Haworth Press, Inc., 1994, pp. 1-31. Multiple copies of this article/chapter may be purchased from The Haworth Document Delivery Center [1-800-3-HAWORTH; 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (EST)]. © 1994 by The Haworth Press, Inc. All rights reserved.