Professor Dorothy Roberts talks about dismantling child welfare system at Penn event

In a Tuesday night virtual event titled “Black Families Matter: How America’s Family Regulatory System Punishes the Colored Poor,” Penn Law and sociology professor Dorothy Roberts discussed systemic racial inequalities in the welfare system. childhood.

Credit: Isabela Baghdady

Penn professor Dorothy Roberts discussed systemic racial inequalities in the child welfare system at a virtual event Tuesday night.

The event, titled “Black Families Matter: How America’s Family Regulatory System Punishes the Colored Poor,” is the fourth installment in the 2021-2022 Race and Regulation Lecture Series sponsored by the Penn Program. on Regulation and the Penn Law Office of Equity. and Inclusion. The series explores the relationship between government regulation and racial inequality, as well as potential policy reforms to address institutional racism.

In a conversation with Penn Regulatory Program Director Cary Coglianese, Roberts discussed his upcoming book, “Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World,” to be published in the spring of 2022. The book explores how the child welfare system – what Roberts calls the “family policing system” – disproportionately targets black families and calls for its dismantling.

The child protection system aims to identify and protect children who are at risk of being abused or neglected by their parents. Roberts argues, however, that the child welfare system means something different for black children and white children, as black children live in greater fear of being separated from their parents.

“I am now convinced that we must completely dismantle the child welfare system as we build a radically redesigned way of caring for families and keeping children safe,” said Roberts, who is the 14th professor. Penn Integrates Knowledge with joint appointments across departments. African Studies and Sociology and the Faculty of Law.

In her talk, Roberts explained how the child welfare system has disproportionately targeted “economically and racially marginalized communities” by monitoring families of color and forcing children into foster care, emphasizing the link between the child protection system and criminal law enforcement.

Roberts said the child welfare system disproportionately criminalizes black, brown and native parents as a “risk” to their children. She added that the child welfare system also criminalizes black children, citing two examples of black children who were killed by staff members while living in residential care facilities.

Roberts added that low-income black families are at greater risk of family regulation because they face greater “state oversight.” She said that compared to wealthy white families, low-income black families are more likely to interact with public service providers for their health care, education, social services and social assistance benefits, which increases their likelihood of being reported by “mandated journalists”. . Roberts defined commissioned reporters as professionals – such as teachers, health care providers and daycare workers – who are required by law to report “suspicions of child abuse and neglect to the government.” “.

“[The Child Welfare System] is a multibillion-dollar state apparatus that relies on the terror of families by kidnapping their children or arming them with the threat of kidnapping them in order to impose intensive surveillance on all aspects of the life of the family. He executes this extraordinary level of state intervention and family regulation by acting both as police and working hand in hand with law enforcement, ”said Roberts.

Roberts added that more than half of black children will be investigated by child welfare services before they turn 18.

Family separation ultimately interferes with the physical health, socio-emotional well-being, and education of black children, Roberts said. Many black children in foster care are at increased risk of poverty, homelessness, imprisonment and suicide, Roberts added.

The event ended with Roberts’ advice on how members of Penn and the wider community can tackle the structural racism ingrained in the child welfare system.

Roberts encouraged the public to learn more about organizations, such as JMacForFamilies, which are working to abolish the current child welfare system and replace it with a more equitable one. Additionally, Roberts encouraged Penn Law students to get involved in family advocacy services, such as the Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic at Penn Law.

“These are just a few ways not only to dismantle the system through legislation – through protests – but also, just as important, to build the society we would want for our families and make sure we can all equally raising our families, ”said Roberts.

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