Monday, October 22, 2018

Who ya gonna call? For child welfare’s “caucus of denial” there’s now a different kind of “hotline”

The New York Times published a satirical video on its opinion pages yesterday that, on the surface, has nothing at all to do with child welfare.

But actually, it has everything to do with child welfare.

The video offers a number people can call – 1-844-WYT-FEAR as an alternative to calling 911 when African-Americans are simply going about their daily lives doing things that are nobody else’s damn business:

The Times supplements the video with links to “39 known instances just this year when someone called the police to complain about black people doing everyday activities.”

Parenting is also an everyday activity.  And the data are clear: You are more likely to be falsely accused of child abuse if you are Parenting While Black.  It’s especially true if you’re also poor, as documented by the Times in its story about foster care as the new “Jane Crow.” But you don’t have to be poor to be accused of child abuse for Parenting While Black. Just ask Shaun King.

But here’s what makes the cancer of racial bias even more malignant in child welfare than in other fields.  In most of those other fields almost everyone at least admits there’s a problem – at a minimum, those calling themselves liberals will admit there’s a problem.

But in child welfare, there’s an entire “caucus of denial” – mostly self-proclaimed liberals, who insist that they are simply so much better than their counterparts in any other line of work that there is no racial bias in child welfare.

How pervasive is this liberal blindspot? Consider:

● In what other field could a white man tell a Congressional committee that the places that are most successful are those that have “smaller, whiter populations” and still be an influential figure in the debate? 

● In what other field would it be acceptable to hold a fundraiser featuring a blackface act?

Now consider how all that denial stacks up against common sense.  The Times just documented 39 separate elements of day-to-day life in which people of color are victims of racism.  But somehow, in some way, the denial caucus says, child welfare is the magic exception!

Excuses at the ready

Sure, the denial caucus says, people of color – especially African-Americans and Native Americans -- are more likely than white people to be called in to child abuse hotlines, more likely to have the calls accepted for investigation, more likely to have the allegations “substantiated” (which can mean only that a caseworker guesses it’s slightly more likely than not that the allegation is true) – and, of course, more likely to have their children consigned to the chaos of foster care.

But the denial caucus has excuses at the ready. Their favorite is: It’s not race, it’s poverty!  I actually rather like that one.  For decades the child welfare establishment denied taking away children because of poverty.  But they’ll actually cop to class bias to avoid facing up to racial bias.

In fact, it’s both.  There is indeed rampant class bias in child welfare and that results in the widespread confusion of poverty with neglect.  But there also is racial bias over and above the class bias – as is documented by study after study.

The uglier claim is that, well, yes, there used to be racism in America -- and that made African- Americans and Native Americans bad parents.  So we’re really, truly sorry about all that past racism, but we’re just going to have to take away huge numbers of children of color.

But here again, the research shows otherwise.  Give caseworkers identical hypotheticals except for the race of the family and they will rate the child at higher risk if s/he is Black.  Or look what happened when the child welfare agency in Nassau County, New York, required workers to present cases of children they wanted to remove but leave out information that identified the race of the family and the neighborhood where the family lived: Removals of Black children declined substantially.

Help is on the way!

There is no cure for child welfare’s deep denial, but now at least there is help:

Next time you see a Black child whose family is living in makeshift housing, or who wandered out of the house without her mother knowing about it, or who is eight-years-old and selling water in front of her own apartment building (an actual example on the Times’ list) or a Black mother who is smoking marijuana to keep food down so she can gain weight during pregnancy, or a Black man babysitting white children (another actual case on the Times list) don’t call the child abuse hotline or the police.  Instead, call 1-844-WYT-FEAR!

This post has been updated to delete references that are now out of date.