Expectations of contemporary child protection apparatuses are strongly influenced by beliefs inherited from the nineteenth century child rescue movement. In particular, the belief that child abuse determination is obvious. However, this assumption fails to make a distinction between nineteenth century’s emphasis on impoverished environments and the twentieth century introduction of the pathological child abuser. Moreover, the proliferation of kinds of child abuse, and the need to distinguish child abusers from non-abusers, means knowledge is now spread across an array of disciplines and professions, which necessarily destabilizes the definition of child abuse. The increasing exposure of alternate care systems as potentially abusive has similarly destabilized the old common sense solution to neglected children—namely removal. Finally, as uncertainty increases, and definitions become more divergent, the question of what child abuse is, and what should be done about it, becomes increasingly politicized.
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