Book of David: How Preserving Families Can Cost Children's Lives

Overview

Using the true story of a murdered child as a point of departure, a leading expert on family violence argues that society's first priority must be protecting children rather than preserving families. Richard Gelles was once one of the most widely published and vocal defenders of family preservation: the social policy of keeping troubles families together as a primary goal. He then ran into the true and tragic case of David Edwards, an infant who was murdered by his mother after falling through the chasms in the ...
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Overview

Using the true story of a murdered child as a point of departure, a leading expert on family violence argues that society's first priority must be protecting children rather than preserving families. Richard Gelles was once one of the most widely published and vocal defenders of family preservation: the social policy of keeping troubles families together as a primary goal. He then ran into the true and tragic case of David Edwards, an infant who was murdered by his mother after falling through the chasms in the child welfare system. David's story convinced Gelles that the system must change. Nearly half the children who are killed by their parents each year are killed after they have come to the attention of child welfare agencies. These children must be protected by getting them out of harm's way. That means a radically new child welfare system must be developed. The first priority must be to protect children rather than preserve families. This hard-hitting book critically examines family preservation programs and argues that they do not work. Gelles goes beyond mere criticism of the child welfare system to suggest specific ways the system should be changed, such as eliminating mandatory reporting of abuse, giving better training to caseworkers, and separating the investigation of abuse from case management.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The tragedy of abused children who have been failed by child welfare agencies is made palpable in the case presented here, followed by a specialist in family violence. Gelles, director of the Family Violence Research Program at the University of Rhode Island, examines the brief life of David, who died of suffocation at 15 months-one of the many children killed by their parents in the U.S. each year. Though previously reported as an abused child whose older sibling had earlier been removed from the family, David was nonetheless allowed to remain with his biological parents. The author attacks this operating principle of social service agencies that claims children are better off with their own families than with other caregivers. It is his documented observation that the central mission of child welfare agencies-preserving families-does not work. In tracing the system's tragic failure to save a child, Gelles sounds a wake-up call to agencies to put children first and reassess the efficacy of family preservation programs. (Apr.)
Kirkus Reviews
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.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780465053964
  • Publisher: Basic Books
  • Publication date: 5/28/1997
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 218
  • Sales rank: 797,215
  • Lexile: 1370L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.16 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Richard Gelles, a leading expert on family violence and author of 11 books on the subject, is the director of the Family Violence Research Program at the University of Rhode Island, where he is also a professor of sociology and psychology.

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