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, recently spoke with Salon about her new book, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World.
The following is an excerpt from “Is our child welfare system ‘broken?’ Or is it ripping apart Black families by design?”
I want to start by asking about your argument at the end of the book: that you can’t fix a system that isn’t broken. Few people know much about the problems in child welfare to begin with, let alone the argument that the system is functioning as it was designed.
I think you’re right that people aren’t aware of how the system operates. Many know there are flaws because of headlines: stories that refer to children killed in the home who were known to the system. But the way people usually respond is, “That means we need the system to take more children away from their families.” So to the extent they are aware of problems, the response is often to shore up the system.
What I’m trying to get across is that this isn’t a system designed to protect children at all. It’s designed to police the most politically marginalized families in the nation. It’s always been designed that way, from its origins centuries ago. And when you have a system that is fundamentally designed to oppress people, you should expect that its outcomes will be oppressive… .
Roberts is an acclaimed scholar of race, gender, and the law. She 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.