William Meezan, Ph.D., a professor of social work and an expert in child welfare, was installed as the inaugural Mary Ann Quaranta Chair for Social Justice for Children on April 15.
|William Meezan accepts the Quaranta chair.
Photo by Bruce Gilbert
Meezan receives the chair named after the late Mary Ann Quaranta, Ph.D., former dean of the Graduate School of Social Service, widely considered a giant in the field of social work.
While he never knew Quaranta personally, Meezan said he remembered her as someone who “never lost sight of the mission and values” of the profession. As such he said he was “honored and humbled” by being named as the chair.
Meezan’s inaugural lecture detailed the dismal state of child welfare in the United States today. As he ticked off harrowing statistics and zeroed in on what he believed to be the cause, several social workers in the audience nodded in agreement.
“Permanency planning,” a systematic, time-limited process meant to place children in permanent homes, has been a theory that has guided the child welfare system since it was codified into law by congress through the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act of 1980, he said.
Several laws followed, in 1993, 1997, 2008, and in 2012, each intended to instill efficiency and protect the child.
But while the some of the laws stressed the importance of maintaining children in their homes, they often did not provide funds for the services that could return the children home once they were in the system.
Meezan also examined laws that preceded “permanency planning,” that he said begat the current crisis, including the Child Abuse and Treatment Act of 1974. That law created “an avalanche of child abuse reports” that led to a huge expansion of the child welfare workforce.
Unfortunately, an increased workload led to a “deprofessionalization” of the workforce. Today, the average length of employment for case workers is two years, and they are also often under-educated for their roles, he said, noting the turnover of social workers is matched only by a turnover of judges and attorneys in the system, leaving families adrift amongst strangers.
Current efforts to reform the system that include privatization, managed care, and performance-based contracting “have had inconsequential effects on child outcomes,” in many states, “and a considerable reduction of service” in other.
“Children in market-based [child welfare]environments are 68 percent less likely to be reunified with their biological parents,” said Meezan.
After defining the problem, Meezan suggested ways to fix it, including providing more support to parents who have lost their children to the system because of drug addition or other social issues.
“Too often we make unreasonable service demands on parents and intrude into family life well beyond the child welfare concerns,” he said.
The flipside of too much intrusion, he said, is a “one size fits all” approach where untrained child welfare workers send parents off to anger management treatment or parenting classes.
Meezan encouraged community based approaches that are located in the “hearts of the communities and within the families’ ecological space.”
“If agencies stand apart from their local community they will always be seen as threatening, rather than helpful places,” he said.
Above all, Meezan said, the U.S. system needs to do a better job of supporting families before they find themselves in trouble. One way, he said, is fighting poverty: child neglect is 44 times more likely to happen in families with annual incomes below $15,000.
In the last election cycle, not a single candidate spoke of the poor or the “insipient impact of poverty on family stability.”
“With our newly found concern for middle class we’ve chosen to ignore the poor.”