Punctuated-Equilibrium Theory. Punctuated-Equilibrium (P-E) Theory. Political processes are usually driven by a logic of stability and incrementalism. Political processes are also largely relying on departures from the past.
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These subsystems can be dominated by a single interest (policy monopoly), can undergo competition among several interests, can be disintegrating over time, or maybe building up their independence from other.
P-E theory includes periods of equilibrium, when the issue is captured by a subsystem, and periods of disequilibrium, when an issue is forced onto the marcopolitical agenda.
When issue area is macropolitical agenda, small changes in the objective circumstances can cause large changes in policy, and system is undergoing a positive feedback process.
In 1957 U.S. Children Bureau issued a report entitled “Proposals … for Legislation on Public Child Welfare and Youth Services” suggesting that each state’s Child Welfare Department investigate neglect, abuse, and abandonment; offer social services; or bring the situation to the attention of a law enforcement agency.
This recommendation was the first major public sector recognition of child abuse as an issue of public policy as opposed to a problem of social workers.
In the 20 years since the “Proposals … for Legislation”, the problem of child abuse and neglect has achieved a secure niche on the agendas of the federal bureaucracy, all 50 state legislatures, and Congress.
View on a child abuse from the perspective of issue creation and agenda setting.
How were the political, economic, and moral burdens for response to child abuse shifted away from private charity and on to government?
The child abuse case will be reviewed in three sections:
Conceptualization of the agenda-setting process;
History of how the issue of child abuse and neglect was added to the agendas of the state legislatures, Congress and the federal bureaucracy; What was the media’s role in setting the governmental agendas?
The process by which conflicts and concerns come to receive governmental attention and thus the potential for action by the public sector are called “agenda-building” or “agenda-setting”.
Agenda is defined as all issues that are commonly perceived by members of the political community as meriting public attention and involving matters within the legitimate jurisdiction of existing governmental authority.
Three approaches to explain the shifts in the content of governmental agendas:
Although their activities were recognized in state legislatures shortly thereafter, these societies lost a great deal of their power through the first half of the twentieth century as a result of a slowing economy, and severe lack of funding.
In 1954, the issue of child neglect resurfaced when the American Humane Association’s (AHA) Children's Division began the first nationwide study on child abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The results of the study were then used by the Children’s Bureau to propose policy options for addressing the problem, all of which were put together in the 1957 “Proposals … for Legislation” report.
Over the next five years, the Children’s Bureau supported research by Dr. Robert Kempe that was key in helping diagnose the issue of child abuse.
While the Bureau used this research to formulate a model child abuse statute that was disseminated to all 50 states, it was fighting its own battle for survival as an institution, ultimately finding a home under a newly-created Office of Child Development.
The model child abuse statute created by the Children’s Bureau in 1963 was not disseminated directly to state legislatures; rather it was sent out to Child Welfare Departments and interested private groups.
In spite of this, 17 states introduced legislation in 1963, with thirteen states passing laws, and all 50 states had passed legislation on this issue in the coming four years (five times faster than other innovations between 1933-1966).
Of the initial thirteen state laws, only ten were reporting laws.
Only one state appropriated funds for their implementation.
Mandatory reporting was opposed by the American Medical Association; and the Children’s Bureau, AHA, American Academy of Pediatrics and Council of State Governments all encouraging reporting to different entities (i.e., child welfare agencies, social service agencies and the police, respectively).
The numerous interest groups that were offering their advice on the child abuse/neglect issue intensified the pressure that was put on the states to take action.
This pressure was also key in shaping the evolution, and subsequent changes, that took place in the writing of these laws.
Moreover, the legislative mandate of the federal Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) required states to enact reporting laws conforming to a list of stringent standards so as to receive federal discretionary funds.
The time lapse between the initial recognition of child abuse as an agenda issue within Congress and the time it takes to pass federal legislation was considerably longer than that elapsed for the formulation of state legislature.
Numerous “miscalculations” with regard to the introduction of the legislation (including poor committee assignment), and a general lack of awareness amongst elected officials was responsible for the four year delay (1969-1973).
The media attention devoted to the issue of child abuse played a key role in bringing the attention of members of Congress to the issue.
Each agenda set in the child abuse case demonstrates that slack resources encourage the adoption of new issues.
Yet, organizational resources (not surplus funds) were largely responsible for providing the slack (e.g. it took Walter Mondale, a potential Presidential candidate, and a highly resourceful staff to bring the issue to the top of the agenda).
On the state side, it was largely a result of the absence of a political or economic cost associated with taking on the issue.
Surplus funds were the least important slack resource in each instant e.g. the agendas of the Children’s Bureau and Congress were both set during recessions.
Although Congressional action did induce the allocation of spending resources, these expenditures were the product of organizational willingness.
The careful of labeling and promotion of the issue is also key to achieving a professional and governmental agenda, for example:
Kempe’s article, and subsequent media coverage was integral to gaining support amongst the general public.
It’s title, however, “Battered Child Syndrome”, was substituted for Child Abuse to draw greater attention to the brutal nature of the issue so as to depict an image that would garner greater support amongst policy makers.
The label also has an implicit message that can have an impact on those not directly familiar with the topic, as well as those who have a direct interest, and generate the highest level of consensus.