For years, I intellectualized the racist ferocity with which child protective services targets and then tears black children from their mothers and fathers. I strung together data into a simplified worldview wherein racial disproportionality within the child protection system was mostly about the institutional racism that has left black people at such a stark economic disadvantage in this country.
This denied what many black people told me and what the studies and analyses made plain: that child protection is far from immune to racism, but often an instrument of it.
I hope other journalists will read it, and learn from it.
● In honor of National Reunification Month, the new issue of the federal government’s Children’s Bureau Express is devoted entirely to family reunification. There are several outstanding articles, but right now, I want to single out one in particular, from David Kelly, special assistant to Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner. Because Kelly has a message not just for child welfare, but for journalism as well:
There remains a deep-seeded distrust and lack of faith in the poor families and families of color that disproportionality populate the child welfare system. It may not be as blatantly visible in all places and all times as it has been historically and can be quite implicit, but it is there just below the surface, insidious.
We need look no further than the daily features in newspapers across the country in recent weeks forecasting spikes in child maltreatment. Words typically used to describe natural disasters and war, such as surge and tsunami, describe what we should expect. Concerns about declines in reporting and leaps to grim conclusions abound. …
If we take a rational look at what we know, there is good cause to question the legitimacy of the alarmism. … If confined to telling binary stories of heroes and villains, an objective view may reverse the roles. Who is the hero, the parent doing the best they can under circumstances more difficult than most of us will ever know or experience, or the folks writing about the likelihood they will fail or actually seek to harm their children?
And if you’re thinking, “I knew there was a foster care month and an adoption month, but I didn’t know there was a National Reunification Month” then please take a moment to consider what that tells us about child welfare’s real priorities.
● Meanwhile the only thing various agencies and trade associations that make up the child welfare establishment seem to have learned from recent events is how to exploit them for their own advantage. I have a blog post on how child welfare responds to racism in the usual way: unctuous hypocrisy and pious posturing.
● This actually was best summed up by Robert Latham, associate director of the University of Miami School of Law Children and Youth Law Clinic, who wrote:
The child welfare system has nothing to say about anti-Black state violence because the child removal system engages in it daily.
That’s how he began what he calls “A starter reading list on how child welfare policies harm Black people, families, and communities.”
● One of those harms, of course, is arbitrarily barring foster children from in-person visits with their parentd. The Center for Public Integrity has a very good story about the harm this does to children. WBUR Public Radio has a story about a lawsuit seeking to lift the ban in Massachusetts.
● And the Seattle Times Education Lab interviewed family defender Tara Urs about the visitation issue and a host of other failings in Washington State child welfare – including the story this Blog broke about the state child welfare agency warehousing COVID-19 positive children in an office building. The interview transcript is here, or you can watch it here: