What's Mother Got to Do With It?: Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse


218 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-0958-1
DDC 362.76'3





Reviewed by Susan Thomas

Susan Thomas is a middle-school guidance counselor, teacher, and social
worker in Milton, Ontario.


Written from a feminist perspective, this book argues that “mother
blame” lies at the root of child welfare training and practice. But
child welfare is not alone in dealing with child sexual abuse. With a
legal mandate to protect children, child welfare must work in concert
with teachers, doctors, and lawyers. Child protection cannot be isolated
from the community.

A troublesome chapter, “Understanding Child Sexual Abuse,”
critiques work in the early 1980s by Robin Badgely, Ross Dawson, Suzanne
M. Sgroi, David Finkelhor, and others. There is no recognition that
these were the earliest papers about a complex issue. The first Canadian
professional convention on sexual abuse was held in 1982. It was
followed by a massive national program of research, education,
interdisciplinary dialogue, and protocol development throughout the
1980s, a period when governments gave this topic priority. In the 1990s,
a shift to conservative politics led to severe cuts to all social
services programs. The impetus that had made Canada a progressive
international leader in dealing with this issue was left on the
cutting-room floor. This critical shift in public interest, social
change, and economic policy left the entire child-welfare field, along
with children and mothers, high and dry. Women suffered terribly as
practitioners and researchers from all fields, social welfare, health,
education, and justice were rendered mute.

Finally, new information relies on interview notes from mothers and
case file documents providing insight into what really happened during
social work practice at an Ontario agency. Quotations highlight the
thesis that child protection “rewrites the problems, denies mothers’
construction of the problem, shifts the focus onto mother as failed
protector ... placing them in a subordinate and often defensive
position.” Although helpful in bringing information forward, the
organization of this primary source material is confusing.

What’s Mother Got to Do With It? raises probing questions. However,
because the book deals with the role of “mother protector” solely in
the context of child welfare practice, the reader is left with an
overwhelming sense of hopelessness and a limited understanding of how
broad social change could bring about an empowering, safe future for


Krane, Julia., “What's Mother Got to Do With It?: Protecting Children from Sexual Abuse,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 12, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/18157.