The Watchful Shepherd initiative is an important response for child protective service agencies that often face a contradictory double mission of preserving family unity while protecting children. The program looks to strike a balance between maintaining the core principles of family life while directly monitoring the environment, most importantly providing a level of security to children caught in situations beyond their control.
However, the realities of life -- budgetary restraints, fewer case workers, and a growing case list -- require more efficient means of managing cases. The Watchful Shepherd allows child protective service agencies to reach a greater number of homes and to maintain a presence in the homes that would never be achievable if the technology was not available.
It is this household presence which is the most valuable benefit and deterrent from abuse of the program. The ability to quickly contact the appropriate authorities provides the affected family members the security they need to live rich, full lives, without the overriding threat of violence from within their home -- a place that should be a safe haven.
In addition to protecting a specific child from abuse in the home, the Watchful Shepherd also has proven beneficial for other family members where domestic abuse is pervasive. The loud sound the device triggers and the ensuing knowledge that authorities have been notified is often enough deterrent to prevent situations from becoming volatile. Such security translates into significantly less day-to-day anxiety for the family.
When the Watchful Shepherd is implemented by court order, parents who remove the device from the home or interfere with a child using it are in violation of the law and can be prosecuted as such.
In reality there remains much sentiment and legal mandates to take risks to preserve family unity. Particularly in these instances, the Watchful Shepherd program can provide an extraordinary new tool for keeping a child safe. Considering that the average placement cost for a child in a group home care facility ranges from $45,900 and upwards per year, the budgetary impact of the Watchful Shepherd program is significant. Kinship care, foster care, and adoptive families have also utilized this program for child abduction prevention and safety plans in the home.
A review of the kinds of interventions that resulted from The Watchful Shepherd are best exemplified by the fact that 272 calls from 1993 - 2000 were received from families that were in crisis. In these homes where Watchful Shepherd is implemented, there has never been a reoccurrence of injury from child abuse or neglect. One overlooked benefit of the program is that calls have also come from parents who were losing control and felt that unless help came they were going to possibly hurt their child. Timely intervention by police resulted in keeping family members and potential child victims safe.
In conclusion, the Watchful Shepherd program appears to use ingenuity and originality in helping professionals deal with extreme family dysfunction.
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