Can you imagine if the New York Police Department invited Defund the Police activists to train their officers? That’s what the New York State Family Court and the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) are doing. In a June webinar for almost 400 ACS workers, parents, child attorneys and family court judges, advocates who want to “abolish” the child welfare system lectured public servants about why it should be eradicated.
There are few people, including this author, who would argue that the child welfare system doesn’t need reform. But the utopian theories of activists and academics calling on government agencies to end it entirely pose a serious danger to our most vulnerable children.
The “abolitionists,” as they like to style themselves, begin with the idea that the child welfare system is grounded in racist desires to separate minority families. Dorothy Roberts, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a leading movement voice, told the June audience that the child welfare system is “designed to accuse, supervise, regulate, punish, separate and threaten.” Agencies like ACS are “grounded in a history of slavery and settler colonialism, and the way in which family separation was essential to those institutions.”
These views are starting to trickle out into the mainstream. Last year, the Biden administration official in charge of child welfare compared agency field-workers to “overseers on plantations” and advised the public not to call child protective services: “Save Black children from that knock on the door and that tunnel of child welfare.”
What happens when we tell people who have decided to do these difficult jobs that they are part of an irredeemably racist system? For one thing, it may make them want to quit. Some agencies in this country already have a turnover rate as high as 40% due to low pay, poor training and the heartbreaking nature of the job.
For others, though, it could make agents change the way they do their jobs, treating black children differently because the workers don’t want to be seen as, well, slavemasters. ACS recently put out a report saying that its own workers thought it was a racist agency (though only black and Hispanic workers could participate and only 50 in an agency of thousands actually chose to).
Roberts and others have argued that because black children are more likely to be investigated by CPS and removed to foster care, the system must be based in “white supremacy.” But there is rarely an acknowledgement that black children are more likely to suffer abuse and neglect and three times as likely to die from maltreatment as their white peers. If anything, the notion that child welfare is structurally racist has become an article of faith.
Just a few weeks ago, Alan Dettlaff, a professor at the University of Houston and leader of the upEnd movement (seeking to abolish child welfare) tweeted to media, “Dear Journal Editors: Please inform your reviewers that it is not necessary for authors to provide a citation when they state a system is racist. This falls under the category of ‘common knowledge’.” In other words, demanding evidence for claims of racism is now racist as well.
Roberts went on to explicitly state that CPS workers and courts should adopt different standards for how black children are treated: “So when we talk about the standards of care and protection, we have to ask ourselves, well, whose standards of care and protection? Certainly not, not ours, as people of African descent.” Really? Because African-Americans are fine with their children being subject to a higher level of abuse and neglect than white children?
This is the point of Defund the Police as well. We should ignore higher crime levels in certain city neighborhoods because responding to it might lead to more arrests of black men. Never mind that the victims of these crimes are also disproportionately black. So we should turn a blind eye to the abuse and neglect perpetuated by black parents even though it is black children who will suffer. Fortunately, the NYPD has not yet resorted to bringing in radical activists to lecture their ranks on why we don’t need police. If only ACS and the New York Family Courts could do the same.