Elevate Difference

Scandalous Politics: Child Welfare Policy in the States

Sixteen-month-old Amiya Brown died due to blunt force. Thirteen-month-old Christopher Thomas died and his two year-old sister. All under the auspices of child welfare. These and many other horrifying stories are the touchstones of Scandalous Politics: Child Welfare Policy in the States. A series of similar vignettes open the book with a jolt.

Meticulously structured, the book starts with a history of child welfare nationally before diving into the crux of the multi-pronged study featured. Though it clearly serves an academic purpose, it does so flawlessly. Scandalous Politics is incredibly well researched and could easily be mined for details for years to come. However, without my background in social science research it may have been a much more difficult read.

Gainsborough’s study supplements three different state case studies (Florida, Colorado, and New Jersey) with a regression analysis of how scandal influences funding and legislation around child welfare reform. She emphasizes the importance of media in highlighting child welfare atrocities in policy formation. Her regression analysis found a significant relationship between scandals and legislation, but not scandals and funding for child welfare program. Many of the bills came out within two weeks of a compelling story hitting the papers. Gainsborough recognizes the need for continued coverage and pressure from the media in order to create the funding base necessary to create systematic change instead of band-aid reform on a case-by-base basis, which is generally short term and not appropriately funded overtime.

Separation of the research from the stories of children appears conscious. Unfortunately, the continuity of the stories is then lost in the research. It’s as if the stories run in parallel to the study, making the book a significantly less emotional read.

Child welfare issues are not easy, and Gainsborough gives much credence to that. But must we simply leave the fate of the most vulnerable children in this country to the whims of the news cycle?

Written by: Nicole Levitz, January 31st 2011