"Protecting children and the elderly, strengthening families and individuals, and providing opportunities through coordinated services for the residents of Montgomery County."
It is the job of Montgomery County Children Services to assure that children alleged to be dependent, abused or neglected are protected from harm or danger. Though all parties agree that all abuse or neglect must stop immediately, it is often more difficult to achieve consensus in the development of the treatment/protection plan because of the differing expectations of how children are best protected. Montgomery County Children Services believes that the child's best interest and protection is maximized by maintaining the child at home.
Authority to protect children is granted to our agency by federal and state laws. These laws that mandate that the agency intervene to protect children also require that reasonable efforts be made to keep the child in the home of his or her birth family before removal is considered. The law literally demands that the harmful effects of removal must be balanced against the need to insure the child's own safety. If the child must be separated from his family, then the agency must make efforts to reunify the child and family as quickly as possible.
For many individuals in the community, in their eagerness to do something about a child's situation, they too frequently focus upon removal as the only method of protection. When these concerned citizens report child abuse or neglect they often have an over-idealized perception of foster care. The alleged offending parents, on the other hand, view the agency as bureaucratic child-snatchers, coldly wrenching children away from their families. They regard our involvement as an intrusive interference in violation of their rights as parents.
Removing children from their families often causes lasting emotional harm. The child, who is always the victim, seldom understands why he has been "jerked" from his family and may feel violated by the removal. Children blame themselves for the abuse and subsequent removal and feel revictimized and incarcerated by unfamiliar surroundings. No matter how safe and loving the foster family environment, it is perceived by the child as a poor substitute for the love and care that the child wants from his/her birth family.
It is this agency's job to respond to each report of abuse by assessing the risk to the child and then intervening to protect the child. Our case management and support services, which are time-limited by legal mandate, are activated only when abuse, neglect or dependency is substantiated and only when there is not an appropriate adult willing or able to provide protection. Our experience has shown that many times the family can be empowered to immediately stop the abuse or neglect without our having to remove the child from the home. In some instances however, despite our most intensive efforts to provide supports, the agency is not able to insure protection of children within their own homes. In these cases, children must be removed.
There is no conflict between the values of protecting the child and preserving the family. The goal is always to protect the child. Preserving the family around the child is simply an effective method of assuring that protection. Children grow better in families, and the best environment for the child is his/her own healthy and nurturing family. Agency staff are encouraged to protect the child within the context of his birth home, but if it becomes a question of protecting the child or preserving the family, the scale must always be in favor of protecting the child. This often requires the placement of the child with appropriate relatives, friends or in a foster home. Foster care, which is best used as a short term and temporary alternative placement, is considered only if protection in the home is not possible and relatives or friends are unavailable and unable to meet the child's needs.