Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is NCCPR?
A: The National Coalition for Child Protection Reform is a non-profit organization dedicated to making the child welfare system better serve America’s most vulnerable children.

Q: Who are the members?
A: Some of the nation’s leading experts on child abuse, foster care and family preservation. NCCPR is not a general membership organization.

Q: Why was NCCPR formed?
A: The members of NCCPR believe that many children taken from their homes and placed in foster care don’t need to be there. These children could have been safely kept in their own homes.

Q: Why is this a problem?
A: Being taken from everything loving and familiar is among the worst emotional blows that any child can suffer. It can leave lifelong scars. In addition, there is far more abuse in foster care than generally realized. Wrongfully removing a child from his parents can actually place that child at greater risk of child abuse and neglect.

Q: Isn’t foster care used only in the most severe cases of abuse?
A: No. Although some parents really are brutally abusive or hopelessly addicted, many more are not. Some accused parents are innocent of any wrongdoing. In other cases, the family is poor, and that poverty has been confused with child “neglect.” In still other cases, the parent is neither all victim nor all villain, but any problems in the family could have been solved with the right kind of help, while keeping the family together safely.

Q: What should be done instead?
A: That depends on the case. Sometimes, the best thing child protective services can do is apologize to an innocent family, close the door and go away. In other cases, basic help to ameliorate the worst effects of poverty may be all that is needed. For example, a family living in dangerous housing may simply need enough emergency cash to pay a security deposit on a better apartment. In more serious cases, Intensive Family Preservation programs have kept together tens of thousands of families that child protective services was prepared to tear apart – and they’ve done it with a better safety record than foster care (See NCCPR Issue Papers 1, 10 and 11). Other states and localities have gone further, creating entire systems of care that have reduced the number of children in foster care while making children safer.   For details on solutions see our publications Thirteen Ways to do Child Welfare Right and Civil Liberties Without Exception.

Q: Should these options be used in every case?
A: No. Those of us who advocate for less use of foster care often are smeared with the accusation that we favor “family preservation at all costs.” That is nonsense. There are some cases in which the only safe alternative for a child is to remove that child from the home – and advocates of reform always have recognized this. The real problem is a child welfare establishment bent on foster care at all costs.

Q: What if the parent is addicted to drugs?
A: Then drug treatment geared to the needs of families should be available immediately to any parent who needs it.

Q: Why bother helping such a parent?
A: Because children typically do better with birth parents when those birth parents can care for them. A University of Florida study found this was true even for infants born with cocaine in their systems. (See NCCPR Issue Paper 13). It is very difficult to take a swing at a “bad mother” without the blow landing squarely on her child.

Q: But isn’t using foster care a matter of “erring on the side of the child?” Doesn’t it at least ensure that a child is safe?
A: No. As noted above, taking a child when there has been no abuse in the home is, in itself, an abusive act. A young child often will assume that he has done something terribly wrong, and now is being punished. For other children, the experience can be as traumatic as a kidnapping. And that’s even if the child is placed in a good foster home. Most foster parents try to do the best they can for the children in their care (like most parents, period). But the size of the abusive minority is alarming. That minority grows when more and more children are taken into care, forcing agencies to lower standards and overcrowd foster homes. These conditions also can lead to foster children abusing each other (See NCCPR Issue Paper 1). Overall, real family preservation programs, like those we advocate, have a better track record for safety. For most children most of the time, family preservation is erring on the side of the child.

Q: What is a “foster care panic”?
A: A foster care panic typically is set off after the death of a child “known to the system.” Politicians scapegoat family preservation even if the child never was in a real family preservation program. In response, huge numbers of children are suddenly yanked from their homes, overwhelming foster homes and the entire child protective system.

Q: What is the result of such a panic?
A: All the problems of foster care are magnified. Children sometimes are warehoused in offices or jammed into overcrowded foster homes. Abuse of foster children becomes even more common. And because workers are overwhelmed with children who don’t need to be in foster care, their caseloads soar, leaving them even less time to make critical life and death decisions. As a result, more cases of real abuse are overlooked. In several jurisdictions that have experienced these panics, total child abuse deaths have actually increased. (See NCCPR Issue Paper 2).

Q: When you say child abuse deaths have increased, do you mean deaths of foster children?
A: No. We mean the total number of child abuse deaths in that community, including deaths of children in their own homes. The deaths increase because workers have even less time to find children in real danger.

Q: How does NCCPR try to change the system?
A: Primarily by seeking to influence public opinion. Because of widespread misconceptions about what really works and what really is safe, the climate often becomes poisonous to any reform effort that involves taking away fewer children. NCCPR seeks to detoxify this climate. NCCPR also provides some assistance to lawyers bringing suit to try to change the system. NCCPR cannot assist individuals with their cases.

Q: Who funds NCCPR?
Since 1999, NCCPR’s various reports and publications have been funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, The Atlantic philanthropies, the Herb Block Foundation and the David and Lucile Packard Foundation. Some of our advocacy in Michigan was funded by the Skillman Foundation and some of our advocacy in New York City was funded by the Child Welfare Fund. We thank them for their support, but acknowledge that the views expressed on this website are those of NCCPR alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of our funders.

Updated January 10, 2010