STATEMENT OF MICHAEL PETIT, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, CHILD
LEAGUE OF AMERICA, INC.
Mr. PETIT. Madam Chairman and
members of the subcommittee,
I am Michael Petit. I am the deputy
director at the Child Welfare
League of America, a 75-year-old nonprofit
represents 800 public and private child-serving
2.5 million children a year are served by our
In the last 25 years, I have worked on child
welfare issues and
have traveled to all 50 of the States working to
strengthen their child welfare systems. In the 8 years
prior to that,
I was the commissioner of Maine's Department of Human
which is that State's child welfare agency. In my travels, I
discovered that the good news is, like the lady who testified at the
beginning, there are thousands of individuals privately and within
agencies who successfully protect children each day and who help
families learn to better manage their own affairs. Yet, hundreds of
others -- hundreds of thousands of other children are living in
dangerous and neglectful situations and most of those children are
presently known to the authorities. For these children, government at
all levels is the one thing that stands between them and grave injury.
It is our strong belief that the Federal role in this instance needs
to be strengthened, not weakened. The real issue is that which you
were alluding to earlier, which is that an increasing number of
families are unable to manage the affairs of their children safely.
The consequence of that is a State and county child welfare system
that is so overburdened that many children m danger are literally
receiving no protection whatsoever.
On the whole, the child
welfare programs that we have visited
in the country -- and as I said,
our work is helping those States to
evaluate their systems -- are
generally severely underresourced.
There are no States that meet Child
Welfare League of America
standards. We have been setting those
standards for nearly 75
years. We have 11 volumes of such standards.
The caseloads that we encounter are as much as 100 to 1. Our
recommended caseload standards in some of those programs are as
as 15 to 1.
With respect to flexibility and block granting, we think
a terrific idea, at one level, the flexibility. But if the
operating to the maximum degree of flexibility and
would still be severely underresourced. There are
simply too many
families -- States have been virtually overwhelmed by
the crush of
cases that have been brought to their attention.
The 18 children that you made reference to earlier, Madam
Chairman, last year in Chicago, that were discovered in a neglectful
situation, I subsequently met with many agencies across the country
around that particular issue, It is viewed as a garden-variety type of
a neglect problem; it is not viewed as an extraordinary case at all.
Representative McDermott asked what can be done
programmatically. Among the things we are strongly advancing are
notions like getting serious with teenage pregnancy and all that
means. Home visitor programs to certain households, particularly
teenagers on AFDC, until such time as it is proven that home
visitations are no longer necessary.
We have got some excellent
models on that: Serious parenting
instruction; child care in every
school in this country, including
pro-grams that are run by junior and
senior high school students; and
with regards to training, one-half of
the States have no preservice
training right now for the child welfare
workers. You can be a
23-year-old social worker on Friday doing food
stamps, and on Monday
you are talking about somebody who has had sex
with their children.
Having served as a State administrator myself
interviewed hundreds over the years, 427 is a meaningless
most of the States. It represents no kind of sanctions to
whatsoever. It is viewed as a paper tiger.
would give the system a grade of D. The reason why
is that, for example,
half of the kids that are killed in this country
at the hands of their
family members are already previously reported
to the department. In one
study, 40 percent of the kids returned from
foster care, 1 year later,
had been reabused and were back in State
And one area
that is seriously neglected is child sexual abuse. It
is our belief
right now that fewer than 1 out of 10 child sexual
abuse cases in this
country, where a felony has been committed, result
in a prosecution.
That means that 90 percent don't have a prosecution.
And in State after
State we ask judges, social workers and others if
they believe that
there are children that they know who are living at
home with a sexual
perpetrator, and the answer is always yes.
Some States have a much
stronger inclination to do this than
others. Let me give you two States,
3 million people in both States.
One of them spends $24 million on its
entire child welfare system.
The other one spends $240 million on its
child welfare system.
Block granting anything back to the States is not
going to change
The State's general fund
appropriation is $4 million in the first
instance. In that State, I have
visited children in jail, 9 years old,
whose only offense is to have
been sexually abused by an adult, in
jail because there was no other
place to locate the child; children,
13 years old, in straitjackets
because of mental illness, in local
lockups without legal
One of the consequences of all this is that
telephone calls come
into jurisdictions in which they are supposed to
generate a protective
investigation. In one jurisdiction we are working
with right now, they
get 30,000 referrals a year. They screen out
24,000, they go out on
6,000. They don't go out on 24,000. Imagine a
with the local fire department in which there is an
inquiry over the
phone trying to screen out a fire call because of, how
hot is the
smoke and what color is -- what color is the flame?
Finally, with regards to the paperwork issue that was raised by
Congressman Matsui, our experience, when we asked social workers
this question -- we have asked thousands of them, how much of
time is spent on paperwork versus families, it ranges from a
low of 3 percent with families, to not much more than 25 percent
There is a crushing weight of paper. I would
submit, though, that
it is marginally related to Federal reviews. It is
mostly related to
the kinds of legal processes that are going on in the
And I would just note that on that, when we are talking
taking children away from their families, I have a hard time
something that isn't going to be largely driven by certain
considerations. Our testimony includes, I think, some 14
recommendations which I would be happy to talk about at some point.
[The prepared statement follows:]
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