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Melton seeks “human rights approach” to child protection policy

Published: December 1st, 2008

Category: Feature, News

Dr. Melton speaking in the Chesterfield Ceremonial Classroom

Dr. Gary Melton, director of the Clemson University Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, spoke Nov. 24, in the Chesterfield Ceremonial Classroom as part of the Center on Children and Families speaker series.

Parents living without fear of asking for help, children living without fear of abuse, and neighbors readily offering open arms and helping hands are all vital to Dr. Gary Melton’s vision for the future of U.S. child protection policy.

Melton, director of the Clemson University Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, visited the Levin College of Law on Nov. 24, to present to students and faculty, “What’s Wrong with Child Protection Policy…and How Can it be Fixed?,” advocating a movement away from investigations triggered by allegations of abuse and toward society-at-large taking a greater interest in the well-being of children and families rooted in their communities.

Using the Strong Communities program, funded by Clemson University and located in northwest South Carolina, which he spearheaded, as a model, Melton presented to his audience his composite vision for the future of child protection policy, then dissected it piece-by-piece to show how he arrived at his particular vision and why it just might work.

The end result, he claims, is “safer children and stronger communities.”

Under the current system, “the odds that a report to child protective services will result in anything positive are minuscule,” Melton explained. He said that the main problem with current U.S. child protection policy is that it is a system triggered by accusations, creating a backward system that offers little protection to children and no help to parents.

In his presentation, Melton cited some provocative statistics from his home state of South Carolina: about one in eight calls to child protective services are screened out, one-third of the remaining calls are officially substantiated, and only 40 percent of that third receive any services.

Melton added, “if they do get anything, it’s most likely a course in parenting, which has little to do with the reasons for the referral to begin with.”

Arguing against the public perception of perpetrators of child abuse as evil and monstrous, Melton argued that most cases involving neglect or emotional abuse indicate not depravity or illness on the parent’s part, but rather a deep and overwhelming need for support in childrearing, and instead of help, needy families are given an intrusive investigation.

Melton asserts that this trend is magnified by the “long-standing global increase in alienation, isolation and distrust,” which leads observers to report suspected neglect or abuse to local authorities instead of offering traditional, neighborly concern and support.

Calling his approach the “human rights approach,” which seeks to reaffirm the personhood of the child and the ability of the parent to succeed in raising the child, Melton hopes to effect a movement away from current U.S. child protection policy centered around accusations to a kinder, community-based approach centered around mutuality of respect and caring.

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