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Regulation of Black Families

April 20, 2022

“The United States should replace its current family surveillance system with one that improves children’s welfare,” writes Prof. Roberts at The Regulatory Review.

As part of The Regulatory Review’s Race and Regulation essay series, Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology and the Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, has published “The Regulation of Black Families.”

The following is an excerpt:

The U.S. child welfare system is a multi-billion-dollar apparatus designed to regulate and police families, not to protect children.

In my recently published book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World, I argue that the child welfare system relies on terrorizing families. By taking away children or weaponizing them with the threat of removal, the child welfare system imposes intensive surveillance and regulation on families.

Black and Native children are grossly overrepresented in the system. According to a 2014 study, about 15 percent of Native children and 12 percent of Black children can expect to enter foster care before their 18th birthday. The rate for white children, about 1 in 20, is much lower, reflecting America’s racial hierarchy, but still incredibly high.

Family surveillance extends far beyond the numbers of children placed in foster care, the measure commonly noted to gauge the system’s scope and impact. Child protective services (CPS) agencies investigate the families of nearly 3.5 million children every year.

More than half of Black children will be subjected to investigation at some point before they reach age 18. Moreover, child welfare agency involvement is concentrated in segregated and impoverished Black neighborhoods, so all children residing in these neighborhoods experience the impact of intensive state supervision, regardless of whether they have been separated from their parents… .

Roberts is an acclaimed scholar of race, gender, and the law. Her recently published book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families – and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World, draws on decades of her research and scholarship, builds upon her previous groundbreaking book, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, and reveals that the child welfare system is yet another punitive way the government treats Black mothers; Black children are disproportionately torn from their families and placed in foster care, interfering with their education, social relationships, and well-being and driving many to juvenile detention and imprisonment.

Roberts joined the University of Pennsylvania as its 14th Penn Integrates Knowledge Professor with joint appointments in the Departments of Africana Studies and Sociology and the Law School. Roberts is also founding director of the Penn Program on Race, Science & Society in the Center for Africana Studies.

Read the full essay at The Regulatory Review.