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Prof. Dorothy E. Roberts argues for the abolition of the child welfare system as part of PPR’s Race and Regulation Lecture Series

November 19, 2021

Roberts maintains that the U.S. child welfare system is designed to police Black families, not to protect children, and must be replaced with a new vision of family support and child safety.

The child welfare system in America is designed to police Black families, not to protect children, and it must be dismantled, [George A. Weiss University Professor of Law & Sociology and the Raymond Pace & Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights] Dorothy E. Roberts said in a lecture organized by the Penn Program on Regulation (PPR).

The lecture, “Black Families Matter: How the U.S. Family Regulation System Punishes Poor People of Color,” was part of the 2021-22 Lecture Series on Race and Regulation, organized by the PPR and co-sponsored by the Penn Law Office of Equity and Inclusion. Roberts’ lecture was also co-sponsored by the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice, and Research.

In the Zoom event, Roberts examined the fundamental racism of the child welfare system, which collaborates with law enforcement to police families in ways that disproportionately and negatively affect people of color, and she discussed why this system of family regulation should be abolished.

The child welfare system relies on regulating families by “weaponizing their children with the threat of removal to impose intensive surveillance on every aspect of their lives,” Roberts said. She argued that reforms can’t fix this problem.

“The system has absorbed decades and, in fact, centuries of attempts to reform it and what comes out of these reforms is a continuation of the basic way the system operates because it was designed to operate this way,” she said. “What we need is a total paradigm shift in the state’s relationship to families and a complete end to family policing by dismantling the current system and reimagining the very meaning of child welfare.”

Few areas of the law affect people’s lives so personally as the rules affecting families and the power of the state to intervene in family life and to separate children from their parents, said Cary Coglianese, [Edward B. Shils Professor of Law and Professor of Political Science and founder and director of the PPR], in introducing Roberts, whom he called “one of the most acclaimed scholars of our time in the fields of race, gender, and the law.”

Read more at Penn Today.