In this book, Susan Janko aims to move beyond sensationalism and platitudes to take a sensitive and serious look at the national problem of child abuse. She delves, through observations and interviews with parents and staff members, into the frustrating world of the child welfare system. The author examines the experiences of three parents who came to be known as abusive by a state-run Child Protection Services agency (CPS), and discusses how they and their children fared under the agency's intervention. From her "insider" perspectives as former director of the therapeutic pre-school programme and co-director of the CPS-sponsored programme with which these parents are involved, Janko demonstrates a social programme that is often counter-productive. Designed to provide parents with the support and skills necessary to help them raise their children at home, these agencies frequently fail to achieve the aim. And, too often, their well-intentioned intervention concludes with the most unhappy result of all - the child's removal to an institution or foster home.
Instead, the author argues, far-reaching policy changes are needed to coordinate earlier and more diverse kinds of support for children and families who experience violence. She describes the parents and caseworkers interviewed as neither saints nor villains, but human beings living in a degenerating society and caught in the coils of an inadequate and misguided governmental construct. Through the lens of the interviews, Janko examines the synergetic relationship between the developing child and caregiving and social environments, and the ways in which society understands and defines child maltreatment - societal tolerances may change, leaving an impression that the prevalence of child maltreatment has declined or risen, although the actual caregiving situations are relatively unchanged.