Child Protection and Family Empowerment: Competing Rights or Accordant Goals?

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Child Care in Practice


Child protection, family empowerment, child welfare leadership


Since the advent of the Family Support movement in the 1970s, child welfare systems have been challenged to simultaneously protect children and empower the families they serve. Despite the passage of decades, however, the systems continue to struggle with adequately integrating the pursuit of family empowerment into the fabric of their work. While it is generally agreed that family empowerment is important, child welfare administrators do not seem to agree on whether the system can be dually focused or whether child welfare should maintain its focus as a protective authority. This article addresses the ongoing tension between protection and empowerment and presents data from interviews with 30 child welfare caseworkers and supervisors from three counties in the Mid-Western region of the United States. The interviewees share their understanding of the relationship between child protection and family empowerment. They also discuss key aspects of child welfare organisational culture which indicate why family empowerment may still be a struggle for these systems. The data reveal that comprehensive training is needed within child welfare in order to move the family empowerment agenda forward.