THE BOOK OF DAVID by Richard J. Gelles


How Preserving Families Can Cost Children's Lives
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 A radical reassessment of the current policy of keeping families intact, even when doing so means risking the continuing abuse of children in a family, must be changed. Sociologist Gelles (Univ. of Rhode Island; Intimate Violence, 1988) is a longtime student of family violence and was an advocate of the federally mandated policy for social welfare agencies to make all ``reasonable efforts'' to preserve troubled families, even where there was a history of child abuse and unrepentant parents. He has changed his mind, as have many other child and family advocates in the wake of a recent spate of deaths of children in families having a record of abuse. Framed around the case of pseudonymous David Edwards, a 15-month-old suffocated by his mother, Gelles's analysis accuses the system of failing in part because of the vagueness of the mandate ``reasonable efforts.'' Because both federal and private funds were tied to family reunification and because the goal is laudable, efforts to reunite children with birth parents were not always compatible with what should have been the overriding objective--safety for the children. Gelles blames the confusion of aims, overreporting of suspected abuse, poorly trained and overburdened workers, and an inadequate understanding of risk factors. In a dramatic reconsideration of the tools needed to protect children at risk, he recommends eliminating mandatory reporting (by doctors, schools, and social workers), focusing only on the most serious cases, taking the responsibility for investigations away from social services, and, of course, improving the training of caseworkers. He even mentions the ``O'' word--orphanages (or ``group homes'')--as a viable alternative in some cases. An essay pushed to book length, but a meaty and provocative appeal to put the safety of children ahead of established social policy. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 10th, 1996
ISBN: 0-465-05395-5
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1996