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A starter reading list on how child welfare policies harm Black people, families, and communities

The child welfare system has nothing to say about anti-Black state violence because the child removal system engages in it daily. Do the reading, and then let’s get to defunding the removal system, redirecting billions in resources directly to communities experiencing problems, and stripping child welfare decisions from bureaucrats and locating them properly back with families.

All quotes are from the books and articles they fall under. Feel free to suggest other readings in the comments. [Edit: As I get offline suggestions, I will add new things.]

Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare by Dorothy E. Roberts (2002):

The new politics of child welfare threatens to intensify state supervision of Black children. In the past several years, federal and state policy have shifted away from preserving families toward “freeing” children in foster care for adoption by terminating parental rights. Welfare reform, by throwing many families deeper into poverty, heightens the risk that some children will be removed from struggling families and placed in foster care. Black families, who are disproportionately poor, have been hit the hardest by this retraction of public assistance for needy children. And tougher treatment of juvenile offenders, imposed most harshly on African American youth, is increasing the numbers incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities and adult prisons. These political trends are shattering the bonds between poor Black children and their parents.

Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers by Dorothy E. Roberts (2012):

Foster care is more than a precursor to prison (for children), and prison is more than a precursor to foster care for children (of the incarcerated). The simultaneous buildup and operation of the prison and foster care systems rely on the punishment of black mothers, who suffer greatly from the systems’ intersection. This Article analyzes how both systems work together to punish black mothers in the service of preserving U.S. race, gender, and class inequality in a neoliberal age. The intersection of prison and foster care is only one example of many forms of overpolicing that overlap and converge in the lives of poor women of color. I investigate this particular systemic intersection to help elucidate how state mechanisms of surveillance and punishment work to penalize the most marginalized women in our society while blaming them for their own disadvantaged positions. This systemic intersection naturalizes social inequality and obscures the need for social change.

Toward the Abolition of the Foster System by Erin Miles Cloud (2019) [added 6/11/2020]

However, unlike the criminal legal system, the foster system is often excused from rigorous critique, in part because it is framed as helpful, supportive, and well-intentioned rather than punitive and retributive. Yet it is incumbent on society to interrogate all systems that disproportionately impact Black people, even those that supposedly protect us. As long-time activist Joyce McMillan says, “Do people really think that somehow the child welfare system targets Black people but targets them in a good way?” If we can agree that implicit bias and racism are at least part of why our society is more likely to shoot a Black person, call the police on Black people, or profile a Black body, why do we believe that there are more noble reasons for the disproportionate reporting of Black mothers and removal of Black children? The reality is that both the criminal legal and the foster systems are rooted in deeply violent historical narratives about Black bodies that do more to promote punishment than safety.

It is especially important to critique the foster system when the individuals it claims to help explicitly characterize it as harm. In my nine years of representing parents, I have almost never heard my clients use words like “support,” “assistance,” or “rehabilitation” to describe their experiences with the foster system. Mothers and activists like Dinah Ortiz-Adames consistently denounce it. Within my own family, I have experienced it break down rather than build up bonds. Even the children who are supposed to be served by this system decry its effectiveness.

Issue 1: Anti-Black Racism, Bio-Power, and Governmentality: Deconstructing the Suffering of Black Families Involved with Child Welfare by Doret Philips & Gordon Pon (2018):

In this article, we focus on how anti-Black racism and white supremacy are embodied or manifested in tangible or visible forms in the child welfare system. Given the often heart-wrenching narratives of suffering experienced by Black children and families involved with child welfare services, we ask the following two guiding questions: 1) how are colonialism, anti-Black racism and white supremacy embodied by the child welfare system? And, 2) how can the extreme suffering experienced by many Black families involved with the child welfare system be understood? This schema of embodiment is necessary to deconstruct how anti-Black racism, colonialism, and white supremacy are manifested in the day-to-day policies and practices of child welfare.

What Can the Child Welfare System Learn in the Wake of the Floyd Decision?: A Comparison of Stop-And-Frisk Policing and Child Welfare Investigations by Michelle Burrell (2019):

The child welfare system needs a public image shift. The image of parents who have been subjected to government intrusion needs to be shifted, from a public mindset that those who are receiving intervention from child protective officials need or deserve it, to a healthy criticism and interrogation of the intrusion and family separation based on allegations that have not been proven true. Recently, the prospect of removing children from their parents at the border was met with much public backlash, and mental health professionals across the country insisted that the harm being caused by such separation was inhumane and could have longterm irreparable effects. This is also true for children removed from their parents residing in the United States. The same irreparable harm applies to children separated in communities across the country.

Racial Bias in American Foster Care: The National Debate by Tanya A. Cooper (2013):

In disproportionately high numbers, Native American and African American children find themselves in the American foster care system. Empirical data establish that these children are removed from their families at greater rates than other races and stay in foster care longer, where they are often abused, neglected, and then severed from their families forever. For the past few decades, a vigorous debate has raged regarding whether these children are actually at greater risk for maltreatment if left at home or are just targets of discrimination in a hegemonic institution. Although the research previously showed no racial differences in child maltreatment rates, the latest Congressional study has found that African American and Native American children are at greater risk for child maltreatment than children of other races. Despite the caution with which researchers have interpreted the data and implicated future policies, scholars are asking whether, as a society, we are protecting or destroying children from these historically disempowered races. Foster care laws offer little practical guidance because the overarching legal standards are too vague or not consistently applied.

Systems thinking, however, provides one useful framework for uncovering points in the foster care system where unintended bias manifests and potential leverage points to exert pressure and effect change. A systems thinking approach also reveals that the foster care system’s primary motivation is simply perpetuating itself; accordingly, to achieve meaningful reform, public policy makers in the U.S. must closely examine this billion-dollar, publicly-funded bureaucracy and the racial disparities it routinely fosters.

African American perspectives on racial disparities in child removals by Effrosyni D. Kokaliari, Ann W. Roy, and Joyce Taylor (2019):

African American children are overrepresented in foster care at twice to three times the rate of white children. Scholars argue that racism and oppression underlie disproportionality (Križ & Skivenes, 2011).

This study explored disproportionality as seen through the eyes of African American parents in the child welfare system. The aim was to understand why African American families are over-represented in child custody statistics and to improve family and parenting support for African American communities.

Who am I? Who do you think I am? Stability of racial/ethnic self-identification among youth in foster care and concordance with agency categorization by Jessica Schmidt et al. (2015):

While it has been well documented that racial and ethnic disparities exist for children of color in child welfare, the accuracy of the race and ethnicity information collected by agencies has not been examined, nor has the concordance of this information with youth self-report. This article addresses a major gap in the literature by examining: 1) the racial and ethnic self-identification of youth in foster care, and the rate of agreement with child welfare and school categorizations; 2) the level of concordance between different agencies (school and child welfare); and 3) the stability of racial and ethnic self-identification among youth in foster care over time. Results reveal that almost 1 in 5 youth change their racial identification over a one-year period, high rates of discordance exist between the youth self-report of Native American, Hispanic and multiracial youth and how agencies categorize them, and a greater tendency for the child welfare system to classify a youth as White, as compared to school and youth themselves. Information from the study could be used to guide agencies towards a more youth-centered and flexible approach in regards to identifying, reporting and affirming youth’s evolving racial and ethnic identity.

Colorblind Must Not Mean Blind to the Realities Facing Black Children by Zanita Fenton (2006):

The interaction of state agencies and administrative bodies, especially those of the justice system (including police, prosecutors, and judges) with communities of color is a major factor that contributes to a dynamic that is central to understanding the pervasiveness of institutional racism. People of color have a general distrust of the justice system that is well founded in history. This foundation includes both legal and extra-legal persecution of Black males, an entire era of extrajudicial lynching, the more recent documentation of racial profiling, and police brutality against people of color. The disproportionate numbers of Black children in foster care easily leads one to believe there are biases operating in this system as well. Thus, there is a real reticence in inviting state involvement of any kind into the private and family lives of people within the Black community.

However Kindly Intentioned: Structural Racism and Volunteer CASA Programs by Amy Mulzer & Tara Urs (2016):

Although CASA programs are a relatively new development, emerging as an experiment of one judge in Seattle in the 1980s they are part of the larger historical story of child welfare. The demographic make-up of CASA programs—mostly middle-class white women over the age of 30—easily recalls the women who, after the Civil War, played the primary role in establishing the modern child welfare system. The ability of white women to speak for the best interests of poor children of color, to advocate for their removal from their families, and to receive deference and praise from legal systems, comes to our modern legal system with
deep roots. Understanding the role of race, gender, and power in forming the structure of the child welfare system explains in part why our legal system so comfortably tolerates a volunteer advocate whose role, in any other context, would not survive even a halfhearted due process challenge. And a full picture of the racist underpinnings of the modern child welfare system helps develop a fuller view of CASA programs.

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We don’t know enough about peer violence in foster homes

An article this month in Child & Family Social Work looks at the scant amount of research on peer violence in foster homes.

Whilst evidence on peer abuse in residential settings is limited even less is known regarding peer abuse in foster care. Although no specific research has been undertaken, work by some (e.g. Farmer & Pollock 1998) indicates the issue of peer abuse is as salient in these settings as in the residential context. Many of the specific dynamics associated with abuse in residential settings, including peer cultures, are either absent or very different in relation to foster care placements. The populations of children in foster and residential care also vary considerably by age and care histories. In addition, the ‘family’ situation of foster care holds unique characteristics and risk factors not present in residence. The relative isolation of young people in foster care from other looked-after children means that the nature of peer abuse may be different. These differences highlight the importance of considering the distinctiveness of peer violence experiences in foster care. In addition, foster families’ own children may be vulnerable to victimization from looked-after children (Höjer et al. 2013). The manifestation and experiences of peer violence in foster care are particularly relevant within a policy context that favours family-based care and a resulting reduction in the use of residential care since the 1970s (Berridge et al. 2012).

We know, because our clients tell us, that peer violence happens too frequently in foster homes. Violence often goes unreported by children and youth for a wide range of reasons, including fear of not being believed, fear of retaliation, and fear of placement disruption to a potentially worse situation. Some foster parents likewise fail to seek help for peer violence in their homes for fear of losing their license or being perceived as unable to care for children appropriately. The result is a culture that minimizes problems for the sake of preserving appearances, until the problems are too egregious to ignore.

The article offers several policy implications:

  • There should be a focus on identifying children and young people who are or have been involved in negative peer interactions including ways of reporting that are accessible by young people. This identification should lead to appropriate responses and support for these young people.
  • The careful placement and supervision of the instigators of peer violence in foster care is required as there may be risks posed to other children and young people in the placement and to placement stability.
  • Placements of children and young people who have instigated peer violence need to be effectively supported including support for the fostered young people and other children within the placement (including children of foster carers), and support and training for foster carers to manage this behaviour.
  • Research is needed about the full extent of all forms of exploitation and violence that are experienced and instigated by young people in foster care, the circumstances in which it takes place, the young people who are more likely to be affected and its co-occurrence with other difficulties. Research should also focus on the neglected area of children and young people’s perspectives.

Lutman, E., and Barter, C. (2016) Peer violence in foster care: a review of the research evidence.Child & Family Social Work, doi: 10.1111/cfs.12284.

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Amplifying Ferguson and Race in Child Welfare

One lesson from Ferguson for those of us who talk and write for a living is that now is (always) the time to amplify voices that normally are silenced. For those of us who work in child welfare, another lesson is that the children we work with have a social, historical, and political identity that is not amenable to rounds of individual therapy. So here are some readings from the #FergusonSyllabus that have to do with youth and families, shared from the list curated by Marcia Chatelain writing at  theatlantic.com and from sociologistsforjustice.org. I’ve added four suggestions for child welfare folks at the end. 

“A Talk to Teachers,” in The Price of the Ticket, Collected Non-Fiction 1948-1985
James Baldwin

Ferguson Killing Inspires Young Black Activists
Frederica Boswell, NPR

On Recognizing My White Privilege as a Parent in the Face of Ferguson
Elizabeth Broadbent, xoJane

What Do We Teach When Kids Are Dying? #MichaelBrown
Chris Lehman, blog

What White Children Need to Know About Race
Ali Michad and Eleonora Bartoli, nais.org

Healing Days: A Guide For Kids Who Have Experienced Trauma
Susan Straus

How the Children of Birmingham Changed the Civil-Rights Movement
Lottie L. Joiner, The Daily Beast

“‘We have to make them feel us‘: Open Letters and Black Mothers’ Grief”
Emily Owens, African American Intellectual History blog

Family Properties: Race, Real Estate, and the Exploitation of Black Urban America
Beryl Satter

Noughts & Crosses
Malorie Blackman

Smoky Night
Eve Bunting and David Diaz

What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?
Margaret Burroughs

I am Rosa Parks
Brad Meltzer

Ruth & the Green Book
Calvin Ramsey

Tar Beach
Faith Ringgold

As Fast As Words Could Fly
Pamela Tuck

The Skin You Live in
Michael Tyler

The Other Side
Jacqueline Woodson

Shining Star
Paula Yoo

U.S. Schools: Desegregation court cases and school demographic data
Brown University

Race and the Ferguson-Florissant School District
Shaun R. Harper and Charlee Davis, III, University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

Self-Segregation: Why It’s So Hard for Whites to Understand Ferguson
Robert P. Jones, The Atlantic

Reflections on Ferguson — What does education mean in a world like this? ” Daniel Katz, blog

Michael Brown’s High School Is An Example Of The Major Inequalities In Education
Rebecca Klein, Huffington Post

Savage Inequalities: Children in America’s Schools
Jonathan Kozol

Stepping over the Color Line: African-American Students in White Suburban Schools
Amy Stuart Wells and Robert L. Crane

How Does it Feel to be a Problem?
Relando Thompkins, blog

“Want to Help Marginalized Students in Schools? Stop “Stop and Frisk” and Other Punitive Practices, Too.” – Markus Gerke

Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity. 2014. “State of the Science: Implicit Bias Review.” Available online:http://kirwaninstitute.osu.edu/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/2014-implicit-bias.pdf.

Ferguson, Ann. 2001. Bad Boys: Public Schools in the Making of Black Masculinity. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. (Especially chapter 4: Naughty by Nature. Google link: http://books.google.com/books/about/Bad_Boys.html?id=3YMDorLC-cQC)

Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare. Dorothy Roberts.

“Prison, Foster Care, and the Systematic Punishment of Black Women.” Dorothy Roberts.

“Black Club Women and Child Welfare.” Dorothy Roberts.

“There is no Santa Clause — The Challenge of Teaching the Next Generation of Civil Rights Lawyers in a ‘Post-Racial’ Society.” Deborah N. Archer.

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On why we need youth engagement

 

happy sunday.

 

 

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ICYMI: John Oliver on the American prison system — racist, stupid, and nothing but a business

This segment was serendipitous timing for the two incarceration opinions that I wrote about earlier this week. Watch it and then argue that a TPR ground based on length of incarceration should exist at all. 

I lost my legal innocence in law school on the day I learned that there is a private prison industry, that it has lobbyists, and that those lobbyists actively seek and successfully obtain stricter sentencing laws to keep more people incarcerated longer. We, as law students, then study the doctrines derived from those systems as though they were natural facts or logically required outcomes. They aren’t. Says John Oliver, “Just think about that: we now need adorable singing puppets to explain prison to children in the same way they explain number 7 or what the moon is.” Except the moon isn’t a horrible choice some people have made to hurt other people for profit. Unlike the moon, it’s also something we can change.

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Four easy ways to make Florida’s tuition waiver better

Florida’s Children First has put out this great white paper on Florida’s Tuition Exemption (colloquially the “tuition waiver”), looking closely at how it works, and ways it could definitely work better.

View this document on Scribd

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The Power of Empathy

The difference between empathy and sympathy. Good morning, everyone.

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Termination of Non-citizen Parents’ Rights

Stacy Byrd, an outstanding student of our clinic, has this Note in the current issue of the University of Miami Law Review: Learning from the Past: Why Termination of a Non-citizen Parent’s Rights Should Not Be Based on the Child’s Best Interests.

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Addressing the Harm of Silence and Assumptions of Mutability

The article’s full title is Addressing the Harm of Silence and Assumptions of Mutability: Implementing effective non-discrimination policies for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth in foster care, found here at SSRN.

This quote caught me:

Children walk the streets today because they were kicked out of a home that saw their struggle as a moral choice rather than a fact of their identity development.

Elvia R. Arriola, The Penalties for Puppy Love: Institutionalized Violence Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered Youth, 1 J. Gender Race & Just. 429, 440 (1998).

 

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What I’m Reading: Parsing Parenthood

PARSING PARENTHOOD
Cynthia Godsoe Lewis & Clark Law Review (Approx. 62 pages)

The story public family law tells about parenthood is both inaccurate and normatively misguided. Parents are deemed “bad” because of their need for state support, and the parent-child relationship is accordingly devalued. This devaluation has resulted in costly and ineffective child welfare policies, embodied in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and related state laws. Child maltreatment costs an estimated $103.8 billion annually, yet its incidence is not decreasing. Thousands of youth “age out” of foster care each year as legal orphans, with no connection to a family and very poor prospects.

This Article explores the consequences of this flawed framework, including the failure to recognize the socioeconomic factors underlying most child maltreatment and the disregard for the real ties between parents and children after families are separated. It argues that child welfare policies will not succeed until the underlying parenthood framework changes; implicit cognitive biases channel even new interventions in a way that stigmatizes marginalized families and over-prioritizes adoption as a panacea. This Article concludes by considering some promising paths to remapping public parenthood, incorporating lessons from the public health preventive approach and from the private family law system’s disaggregation of parental rights and responsibilities.