APSAC ADVISOR | Vol 31, Issue 2
We all make mistakes: Our perception or
judgment turns out to be wrong. ere is
a misunderstanding. We are inattentive. We
fail to act appropriately to deter an avoidable
At an early age we all heard our parents and
teachers tell us that when we make a mistake we
should admit it, take steps to ensure it does not
happen again, and then move on. For whatever
reasons–diminished status, outsized ego, loss of power,
perception of vulnerability–it seems that while many
of us grew up in an environment where admitting
a mistake was commendable, in today’s litigious
environment, too many of us opt to rationalize or
paper over our errors. In the human services world,
particularly child welfare and child protective services
(CPS), this is most unfortunate, because the negative
outcome usually involves an innocent child. When
the inability to admit a mistake involves a high-level
administrator, even all the way up to the director of a
department, the problem is horric.
e CPS system is vast:
• e national estimate of children who
received a CPS investigation response
or alternative response increased
9.5% from 2012 (3,172,000) to 2016
• e number and rate of victims have
uctuated during the past 5 years.
Comparing the national rounded
number of victims from 2012 (656,000)
to the national estimate of victims in
2016 (676,000) shows an increase of
• ree-quarters (74.8%) of victims
were neglected, 18.2% were physically
abused, and 8.5% were sexually abused.
• For 2016, a nationally estimated 1,750
children died of abuse and neglect at a
rate of 2.36 per 100,000 children in the
national population” (U.S. Department
of Health and Human Services, 2016,
In 2016, there were 7.4 million referrals for suspected
child abuse or neglect (U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services, 2016, p. 6). It is therefore no wonder
that so many DHS/DSS directors have had a CPS case
that caused their eventual downfall. e case made
them look either incompetent or politically partisan,
Instant replay in professional sports is ubiquitous.
Cameras are recording every play from every angle.
Umpires and referees can be immediately vindicated
or discredited on many calls. CPS is only vaguely
similar. At times, decision-making is obvious and
clear-cut. But oen, it is shades of gray–sometimes
light, sometimes dark–and always in motion. Most
importantly, perceptions and judgments made weeks
or months ago must constantly be reframed and
rethought based upon new information and insights.
e past is always in the present.
From a legal and liability viewpoint, nothing enhances
The Credibility of Child Protective Services
Rests on the Integrity of the Department Director
Daniel Pollack, MSSA, Esq.
APSAC ADVISOR | Vol 31, Issue 2
The Credibility of Child Protective Services Rests on the Integrity...
the dollar value of a lawsuit like reviewing the le of
a child who has died or been severely injured, and
seeing that the director had an opportunity to correct
a mistake yet instead stubbornly insisted that no
mistake was made in the rst place. In a word, he or
she covered up a misstep.
Napoleon Bonaparte was wrong when he said, “In
politics... never retreat, never retract... never admit
a mistake.” Applied to the world of child protection,
Let’s not be naïve: Being the director of a department
of human services is as much the result of a political
process as the result of a meritocracy. As such, the
most competent person is not always selected. As in
About the Author
Daniel Pollack, MSSA (MSW), Esq. is Professor at Yeshiva Uni-
versity’s School of Social Work in New York City and a frequent
expert witness in child abuse and foster care cases.
any organization, CPS investigators and supervisors
take their cues from the top. What the director does
reects the culture of the department. When winks
and nods suggest more regard for the department’s
image than the children it is supposed to protect,
lawsuits can morph into scandal. And that’s when
directors rightfully lose their jobs.
Integrity is not an object that is lost or misplaced. It is
a value that is too easily forfeited.
The Credibility of Child Protective Services Rests on the
Integrity of the Department Director
U. S. Department of Health & Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on
Children, Youth and Families, Children’s Bureau. (2018). Child maltreatment 2016. Available at: