Using the Eligibilty Spectrum: An example
A teacher reports to Family and Children's Services that a five-year-old boy in her kindergarten class has reportedly not had supper in the past week, nor has he been bringing a lunch to school. As a result the teacher has been providing him lunch from the Red Cross Breakfast Program. Phone calls home have not been returned. However, the teacher, upon further questioning the child discovers that the boy is staying with his grandmother for two weeks, while his parents are on vacation. The grandmother reveals she did send the child to bed without supper one night because he threw a tantrum after she insisted he eat brussel sprouts. She says she has been packing him lunches and cannot understand what happens to them. There has never been a report on this family before. The grandmother's story seems plausible.
Applying the Spectrum
This hypothetical scenario would fit the Eligibility Spectrum under "Physical or Sexual Harm by Commission." The Family and Children's Services Intake Worker then has to consider the possible choices in classifying the severity level:
- Child has deliberately not been fed or given water for at least one day
- Child suffers from malnutrition, dehydration, weight loss
- Child has deliberately been fed only minimal and/or nutritionally inadequate food for several days or repeatedly
- Some deliberate withholding of food exists, but within generally acceptable bounds (e.g. child sent to bed without supper)
- Water is never withheld
- Food and water never deliberately withheld from child when it is available. This is never used as a means of punishment.
- There may be restrictions on type of food (e.g. sweets, desserts) for nondiscliplinary (e.g. health or economic) reasons.
Assuming the teacher believes the grandmother's explanation, the situation that best fits the scenario is the Minimally Severe cluster (child was sent to bed one time over tantrum regarding brussel sprouts, but has not been sent to school without lunches). On the other hand, if there is some concern regarding the credibility of the grandmother's explanation - and specifically whether she actually prepared lunches for the child, the situation that best fits the scenario is the Moderately Severe cluster (child has deliberately been fed only minimal food for several days).
Course of Action:
The CAS would not intervene in this situation. The Eligibility Spectrum is not meant to be a rigid tool, and good judgment is still an important factor. Also, the Eligibility Spectrum expects workers to err on the side of caution and investigate borderline situations. In all situations the social worker considers:
- The age of child
- The child's level of intellectual functioning
- The child's general developmental level
- Any past involvement with a child welfare agency
- The number and nature of minimally severe indicators in the situation and other characteristics which take bearing in the case. For instance, in this case the child is acting out in his parents' absence and playing up to his ability to get special treatment from his teacher. Moreover, this is a first time report.
Read about a Child Protection Worker who makes tough decisions every day using the Eligibility Spectrum.