“Nothing but legal, modern slavery, however kindly intentioned” (Malcolm X)

I have written here before about my work in child welfare (on disproportionality here https://teachingbeloved.com/2020/07/06/reflections-of-a-baby-addict-we-have-to-address-disproportionality-in-child-welfare/) and on the Do No Harm podcast here https://teachingbeloved.com/2021/01/08/teaching-with-the-do-no-harm-podcast/ and possibly some other mentions here and there about my love for children because it is a love that is deep and wide.

This is a picture book about Malcolm Little, who grew up to be Malcolm X. In his biography, Malcolm X talks about how the child “protection” system decimated his family

And yet…the past few months I have been reading some proposals on and calls for the abolishment of the child welfare system as we know it. And I can’t help but agree. Even when I was doing child welfare work as a young (possibly too young) professional, I knew that there were families we (the system, and my role in it) had made less stable because of our work. And there were other families where the court ordered supports we offered them were not what the family would have found to be the most helpful. While I felt lucky that I worked at an organization that wasn’t CPS, and thereby had more degrees of flexibility, I knew that there was inequity in the system. I saw it.

The increasing attention we are paying to ACEs and to the need for strengthening parent capacity is one piece of an answer, I think. We are recognizing that we need to be proactive in supporting families before crisis happens. However, until our practices catch up completely, we also need to attend to the fact that our current system of child protection too often falls short of the general child welfare goals of SAFETY, PERMANENCY AND WELL BEING .

Here is one of the pieces that has been the most convicting to me, https://www.risemagazine.org/2020/10/conversation-with-dorothy-roberts/ and I plan to use one of Dr. Roberts’ books the next time I teach a child welfare class. The excerpt below is a useful frame for thinking about what alternatives could look like:

Ending the system doesn’t mean leaving people to fend for themselves in a society that is structured unequally. We are talking about transforming society, including making structural changes at a societal level and changes in our communities. Ending structural racism is a tall order, but we need to work toward that. We need to care for families by providing housing and food, as well as universal, equal and free health care and education. At a community level, we need to care for each other without relying on violent systems like police, prisons, and child removal. It involves mutual aid and figuring out how to deal with families’ problems and needs and the conflict and violence that occurs in families, in ways that are not punitive, inhumane, violent and terroristic.

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