Friday, January 11, 2019

NCCPR in Youth Today: New York Times editorial series shows how decades after media and child welfare got “crack babies” wrong, the damage lives on

Editorial writers rarely do their own reporting. Most of the time they comment on what reporters for their publications have found, or what they’ve read elsewhere.

But when editorial writers have done their own reporting, they’ve produced some of the nation’s best journalism about child welfare.  The year 2018 ended with an outstanding example: An eight-part series of editorials in The New York Times.

The primary theme of the series is the erosion of the rights of children as a result of fetal personhood laws – or related government interventions even when there is no law.  The examples cited include cases in which pregnant women have been criminally prosecuted for falling down stairs or having a miscarriage and other examples that sound like something out of The Handmaid’s Tale.

But two of the eight parts zero in on how the child welfare system has made everything worse, for the mothers and their children. Indeed, those two parts make the case that hysteria over so-called “crack babies” in the 1980s and 1990s, – a hysteria driven as much by the political left as by the right - and the resulting demonization of poor black mothers, gave enormous fuel to the fetal rights movement.