Monday, August 22, 2022

The American Bar Association(!) just came damn close to calling for repeal of America’s three worst “child welfare” laws

 They even acknowledged their own role in “contributing to racism in the legal field” in general and “within the child welfare legal field in particular…” 

Offhand, I can’t think of an organization that says “establishment” more than the American Bar Association.  Oh, a committee or a task force may say something radical from time to time – but the entire House of Delegates? 

So take a look at ABA 2022 House of Delegates Resolution 606.  The topic is “anti-Black systemic racism within the child welfare system.” 

I’ve noted before that lots of “child welfare” establishment groups have been engaging in reputation laundering. They’ve rushed to slap “Black Lives Matter” statements on their websites and otherwise pretend to support real change – while supporting nothing that would reduce the family policing system’s power or acknowledge their own complicity in creating and supporting that system. 

The ABA resolution is different on both counts. 

At various points, the report gets specific about where to find the racism.  It singles out for criticism three odious laws, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act and the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act.  The resolution makes clear that the ABA views these laws as running afoul of the right to maintain one’s family. 

Then, a few pages later it says "policymakers must evaluate where laws run afoul of the right to maintain one's family and, where necessary, revise or repeal legislation with discriminatory impact." [Emphasis added.] 

And then there’s this the part, on page 2, where the ABA seems to be apologizing for its own role in supporting ASFA and for its “Termination Barriers” project.  That project taught lawyers how to persuade judges to rush to terminate children’s rights to their parents (a more accurate term than “termination of parental rights”). According to the resolution: 

the ABA also has a responsibility to recognize its own role contributing to racism in the legal field. … Within the child welfare legal field in particular, the ABA has also traditionally supported and helped design pieces of legislation that have disproportionately affected and caused harm to Black children, parents, and families.[10] 

And just to be sure everyone knows what they’re talking about, that [10] refers to a footnote which states: 

See e.g., Dorothy Roberts, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (2001), (Referencing the ABA’s project Termination Barriers and active support for provisions in the Adoption and Safe Families Act that facilitated parental and child termination of family rights). 

The report continues: 

Recognizing the discriminatory effect of these laws requires that the legal profession stand up and do something to change them. Even if those results arose from well-intended laws, no profession should turn a blind eye once the consequences are clear. 

So, now that the American Bar Association has done it, what about you Children’s Defense Fund?  Will you admit how wrong you were about ASFA and call for repeal, or at least support of Rep. Karen Bass’ bill to significantly revise it?  Are you ready to admit the failure of CAPTA and MEPA and act accordingly?  How about you “Social Current” – or whatever you call yourselves this week?  And you, Child Welfare League of America.  Are you finally ready to put the needs of children ahead of the financial security of your members?  And you, Prevent Child Abuse America. Are you really ready to renounce your long, ugly history of, in your own words,  “health terrorism” and support change that goes beyond prattling about “well-being”? 

The ABA itself still has some work to do.  Although what was once the termination barriers project is largely gone, it’s still active in Pennsylvania – though the name has been sanitized and, I’m sure they would argue the goals broadened a bit.  But they’re still pushing, for example, the horrific practice of “concurrent planning.” 

But still …  

In 2003, I debated Howard Davidson, the first director of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, before the National Center on Adoption Law and policy.  The topic was ASFA. 

In my closing statement, I cited two of the extremely rare occasions when child welfare establishment groups actually apologized: Australian governments for the Stolen Generations, and CWLA for its project to destroy Native American communities through transracial adoption, which they admitted was “both catastrophic and unforgivable.” I said that in doing so, Australia and America showed they had become better nations. 

I concluded this way: 

I am convinced that someday America will become a better nation still.  And from tomorrow’s perspective, we will see that what is happening now is  -- both catastrophic and unforgivable.  I don’t know who will say it or when it will be said.  But I know that someday someone will stand before its victims and their descendants – and seek forgiveness for ASFA. 

We’re not there yet.  But I never thought we’d get this close in my lifetime.