Wednesday, June 22, 2022

PART ONE OF FOUR: “Child welfare” heads to the reputation laundry

The child welfare establishment co-opts the rhetoric of reform to promote the same old family policing agenda 

The hearings about the Jan. 6, 2021 insurrection have prompted a lot of talk about “reputation laundering” as former Trump Administration officials try to distance themselves from the president they served so faithfully – the most notable example: former Attorney General William Barr. 

As America’s racial justice reckoning finally catches up with “child welfare” – or, as it should be called, family policing – the “child welfare establishment is engaged in its own campaign of reputation laundering.  Indeed, watching the child welfare establishment respond to the racial justice reckoning is almost like rereading George Orwell’s 1984 – in particular, the scenes in which party propagandists change their party line without skipping a beat: “We are at war with Eurasia.  We have always been at war with Eurasia.” 

The child welfare equivalent is: “We are anti-racist.  We have always been anti-racist.” Or: “Yes, poverty is confused with neglect. We’ve always known poverty was confused with neglect.  But we don’t confuse poverty with neglect.” 

But there is one key “tell” in all this – one element that makes clear that the rhetoric is, well, Orwellian. 

The key to the harm that family policing – a more accurate term than “child welfare” -- does to children is the enormous power of the family police.  Even the minimal due process protections in criminal justice are effectively null and void in “child welfare.”  A police officer in a blue uniform can stop a Black youth, throw him against a wall and frisk him.  The family police can march right into a Black child’s home, stripsearch him, and walk out with him.  (In both cases, they can do it to white people, too, but in both cases, of course, it’s far more likely if you’re Black.)  

Yet none of the recent exercises in reputation laundering from child welfare establishment groups includes support for any proposal that would reduce their power.  That’s how we know the real goal is to co-opt the rhetoric of change and put it to use maintaining the oppressive status quo.  

Over the next few days we will present three examples of big mainstream child welfare groups that have made recent trips to the reputation laundry. 

Not one of these huge organizations has embraced any change that would actually diminish the police power of “child welfare.”  Not one has truly embraced reforms that would bolster due process for families.  

What real change looks like 

If these organizations were serious about racial justice, if they were serious about ending the rampant confusion of poverty with neglect, if they were serious about ending a child welfare surveillance state that makes all vulnerable children less safe, they would endorse a due-process and finance reform agenda that includes at a minimum: 

High-quality defense counsel for all families at risk of being caught in the family police net.

● Real child welfare finance reform – not the tokenism of Family First.

● Repeal of the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act – or at least strong backing for legislation proposed by Rep. Karen Bass that would curb its worst excesses.

● Repeal of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act.

● Repeal of mandatory child abuse reporting laws

But the groups we will spotlight over the next few days will never go near an agenda like that. 

Because their real message is the same as it’s been for decades: Sure, fund “preventive services” as an add-on – that we get to run of course -- but we must continue to be judge, jury and sometimes family executioner for millions of children, overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite.  We’ll just co-opt your rhetoric and hope you won’t notice.