Scandalous Politics

Child Welfare Policy in the States

Juliet F. Gainsborough

"A fascinating account of how politicians, journalists, and interest groups respond to child welfare scandals. Thoughtful, probing, and illuminating."
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Little work has been done to systematically analyze how high-profile incidents of child neglect and abuse shape child welfare policymaking in the United States. In Scandalous Politics, Juliet Gainsborough presents quantitative analysis of all fifty states and qualitative case studies of three states (Florida, Colorado, and New Jersey) that reveal how well-publicized child welfare scandals result in adoption of new legislation and new administrative procedures.

Gainsborough’s quantitative analysis suggests that child welfare policymaking is frequently reactive, while the case studies provide more detail about variations and the legislative process. For example, the case studies illustrate how the nature and extent of the policy response varies according to particular characteristics of the political environment in the state and the administrative structure of the child welfare system.

Scandalous Politics increases our understanding of the politics of child welfare at both the state and federal level and provides new insights into existing theories of agenda-setting and the policy process. It will be of interest to everyone involved with child welfare policymaking and especially public policy and public administration scholars.

Table of Contents


List of Abbreviations

1. Introduction: Child Welfare and the Politics of Scandal

2. The Swinging Pendulum: Child Welfare Policy at the National Level

3. States, Scandals, and Child Welfare Policy

4. Florida: Scandal, Electoral Politics, and Leadership Change

5. Colorado: Investigative Journalism, Local Control, and Minor Reform

6. New Jersey: Scandals, Courts, and Ongoing Reform

7. Conclusion: Scandalous Politics

Appendix 1: Testimony at Congressional Hearings on Child Welfare

Appendix 2: Data Sources and Descriptive Statistics for Chapter 3


Selected Interviews



"Gainsborough's book deserves to be a classic text because it sheds light on an under-studied area of social policy . . . I recommend this work to anyone interested in the politics of social policy production and to anyone who wants to make a constructive difference to the lives of vulnerable children and their families."—Australian Review of Public Affairs

"Thorough exploration of an understudied, but theoretically and substantively important, area of state and federal policy. . . . The greatest contribution of the book is the way she deftly weaves her quantitative analysis with her qualitative case studies so that is is complementary rather than competitive."—Perspectives on Politics

"Juliet Gainsborough successfully applies an analytical lens to the heavily value-laden domain of policymaking for abused and neglected children. . . . The author effectively provides the detail, nuance, and complexity of the relationship between child welfare scandals and the politics of policymaking."—Political Science Quarterly

"A fascinating account of how politicians, journalists, and interest groups respond to child welfare scandals. Thoughtful, probing, and illuminating."—William T. Gormley, University Professor and Co-Director, Center for Research on Children in the U.S. (CROCUS), Georgetown University

"Scandalous Politics calls attention to one of the most significant concerns in child welfare policymaking: the dysfunctionality of state child welfare agencies and the extent to which state officials, knowing that the public's attention is drawn to scandal, respond with corrective legislation and additional resources. Gainsborough does an excellent job of delving into child welfare scandals, focusing on the effect of the scandals on agency reform as government officials struggle to 'fix' the agency's myriad problems."—Susan Gluck Mezey, Department of Political Science, Loyola University Chicago


Supplemental Materials


About the Author

Juliet F. Gainsborough is an associate professor of political science at Bentley University. She is author of Fenced Off: The Suburbanization of American Politics.

216 pp., 6 x 9
5 figures, 12 tables
Nov 2010

216 pp., 6 x 9
5 figures, 12 tables
ISBN: 978-1-58901-707-8
Nov 2010

216 pp.
5 figures, 12 tables
ISBN: 978-1-58901-615-6
Nov 2010

American Governance and Public Policy series
Gerard W. Boychuk, Karen Mossberger, and Mark C. Rom, Series Editors

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