Protecting Children in the Age of Outrage: A New Perspective on Child Protective Services Reform

Research output: Book/ReportBook

7 Scopus citations


This book proposes what, to many professionals in the child welfare field, will appear a radically different explanation for society's decisions to protect children from harm and for the significant drop in substantiated child abuse numbers. At the center of this conceptual and analytic approach is the contention that social outrage emanating from horrific and often sensationalized cases of child maltreatment plays a major role in CPS decision making and in child outcomes. The ebb and flow of outrage invokes three levels of response that are consistent with patterns of the number of child maltreatment reports made to public child welfare agencies, the number of cases screened-in by these CPS agencies, the proportions of alleged cases substantiated as instances of real child abuse or neglect, and the numbers of children placed outside their homes. At the community level, outrage produces amplified surveillance and a posture of "zero-tolerance" while child protection workers, in turn, carry out their duties under a fog of "infinite jeopardy." With outrage as a driving force, child protective services organizations are forced into changes that are disjointed and highly episodic; changes which follow a course identified in the natural sciences as abrupt equilibrium changes. Through such manifestations as child safety legislation, institutional reform litigation of state child protective services agencies, massive retooling of the CPS workforce, the rise of community surveillance groups and moral entrepreneurs, and the exploitation of fatality statistics by media and politicians evidence is found of outrage at work and its power to change social attitudes, worker decisions and organizational culture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages224
ISBN (Electronic)9780199332366
ISBN (Print)9780195176964
StatePublished - May 23 2013


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


  • CPS agencies
  • Child abuse
  • Child protective services
  • Child welfare
  • Harm
  • Infinite jeopardy
  • Zero-tolerance

Cite this