Race and class in the 
US foster care system

Melody is an African American single parent who moved with her eight-year-old daughter Robin into a friend’s apartment after losing her own following the elimination of Melody’s job as an aide in a special education school. She was uncomfortable in her friend’s apartment because other people often stayed there, and she tried to ensure that her daughter was always supervised by either herself or her friend. Melody was actively looking for work and was hoping to get her own apartment as soon as she saved the deposit. 

One day, a search warrant was executed in the apartment and Melody and all the adults in the home were arrested because cocaine packaged for sale was found. Melody said she knew nothing about any of the people in the home other than her friend, and that she had never seen drugs being stashed, sold, or consumed in the apartment. A small amount of marijuana was found in Melody’s bag. Melody said she smoked marijuana occasionally, most recently at a family picnic some months prior. Robin denied ever seeing her mother smoke marijuana. While it seemed unlikely that Melody would ultimately be prosecuted, her daughter was remanded into care pending further investigation. Melody worried that the arrest and “indicated” (i.e., substantiated) neglect allegation would prevent her from getting a job in a school, and that she was now homeless. Foster care agency workers told her that she would need to submit to drug testing and attend parenting classes and that she would have to have stable housing before her daughter would be discharged. Melody’s experience in becoming enmeshed in the US foster care system is typical, both in the factors that led to her child’s removal and in the demands placed on her to get her child back.

At any given time, the foster care system in the United States is home to over 400,000 children. Children and youth flow into and out of the system, with a substantial percentage returning home, being adopted, or “aging out” each year, and a comparable percentage entering care. About half the children in foster care are housed with non-relative foster parents, another quarter with relatives (“kinship” foster parents), and the remainder in group homes, residential treatment, or on “trial discharge” to their birth parents while still legally in care. 

The child welfare system casts an even larger shadow, because for every removal from a parent and placement into foster care, there have been a much larger number of child-welfare investigations to determine whether removal is necessary. In New York City, the nation’s largest municipal child welfare system, there were some 60,0000 allegations in 2009 involving 90,000 children and youth, with 7,400 admitted into care, and a total foster care population of 16,400.1

Thus, there is a substantial population of children and families subject to the control of the child welfare system. Parents of children in foster care are monitored by social workers, attorneys, and judges in family court proceedings, while countless others are subject to intrusive investigations under threat of removal. Often, removal is avoided through diversion into “family preservation” or “preventive” services, including mental health, domestic violence, and substance abuse services. The family may well be in need of such services, but is subject to extensive oversight from professionals with the potential to escalate child welfare involvement to coercive levels if they believe parents are not complying with the demands of the system. 

The financing of the foster care system is complex, with a portion of each state’s cost being reimbursed by the federal government at a rate that varies from state to state. Because of arcane eligibility rules, moreover, not all children qualify for federal reimbursement at the same rate, so quantifying the total cost of the system from all state and federal sources is difficult. By one estimate, “annual state and federal expenditures for foster care total more than $9 billion under Title IV-E of the Social Security Act alone. On top of that, “even more money is spent for publicly-subsidized medical care for foster children and food stamps, cash welfare, and child care payments to the families that care for them.”2 Total child welfare cost would include the cost of the reporting, investigation, adoption subsidies, and legal and “preventive” services.

• • •

Child welfare involvement in the United States has always been associated with the children of the poor. In Wisconsin in 2008, for example, a child living in a home with less than $15,000 in household income was six times as likely to be involved with the system as a child from a home with a higher household income.3 The poor are subject to greater scrutiny as a result of involvement with police, the welfare bureaucracy, homeless and public housing systems, publicly funded day care, and emergency rooms. Professionals who report allegations of abuse and neglect in schools, hospitals, and other social service facilities are most vigilant when interacting with low-income parents.4

Race correlates with involvement in the child welfare system more closely than poverty.5 While there are local variations, Latino children have not traditionally been over-represented in foster care, while African American and Native American children represent double the percentage of the foster care population than they do in the general child population.6 Whites represent a significantly lower percentage than they do in the general child population, while Asian children are the least likely to enter care. Since the disparity in poverty rates for Black and Latino children is relatively small compared to disparity in foster care placement, race operates as a factor not wholly dependent on poverty. 

The system is most aggressive in taking action against Black single mothers. As one critic, law professor Dorothy Roberts notes, “If you go into dependency court in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles without any preconceptions, you might conclude that the child welfare system is designed to monitor, regulate, and punish black mothers.”7 Child welfare involvement presents a clear example of the intersectionality of race and gender oppression. As Roberts notes, the system operates primarily and punitively against Black mothers. Traditionally, allegations of abuse or neglect are filed in the name of the mother as “respondent,” even where the perceived danger is caused by factors outside the mother’s control. 

The child welfare system not only reflects an inequitable social order; it also helps to maintain it. It assumes a nuclear family norm that gives women the responsibility for caregiving, while denying them adequate government support and vilifying those who do not depend on husbands…. Like welfare, the child welfare system is a significant means of public support of poor children, especially poor Black children. The child welfare system also extracts an onerous price; it requires poor mothers to relinquish custody of their children in exchange for state support needed to care for them.8 

The practice of filing complaints against battered women for “allowing” their children to witness domestic violence against themselves is perhaps the most extreme form of scapegoating. In 2003, a federal court ordered New York City to stop filing cases against victims of domestic violence based on their children having been present when they were battered.9 The practice was not confined to New York, and Roberts identifies the double victimization involved.

State intervention in battered women’s lives often replicates the terror they suffered at the hands of their intimate partner, and may make it harder for them to take steps to counter it. More fundamentally, it is the public’s mistrust of poor women, especially women of color, and its unwillingness to put money directly into their hands that underlie the emphasis on coercive state intervention to address both violence against women and child maltreatment.10 

Foster care meets the needs of capitalism in several interrelated ways. Early on, the system’s architects feared a class of children who have been seen as a source of potential future disruption—“children of poverty and vice,” in the words of Charles Loring Brace, one of the system’s founding fathers—from eventually exploding in rage against the rule of capital.11 In recent years, instead of citing the threat of public disorder, policymakers have expressed a fear of dependency on the part of children who have not been properly prepared for their role in society and cannot meet the needs of employers. 

The system also attempts to provide a safety net to prevent the most extreme harm caused by an economic system that consigns 20 percent of children—and 40 percent of Black children—to poverty. Local government has to be sensitive to public discontent when children are harmed, and child welfare systems are responsive to periodic scandals involving horrific cases, usually involving the death or extreme abuse of a child. By focusing on vigilance and intervention in response to family crisis, the system situates the cause of harm to children in their parents and caretakers, and not in the damage done to families and individuals by capitalism or in the lack of commitment to meet children’s material needs. 

Additionally, the foster care system in the United States fulfills the needs of capital by reinforcing social control and a model of family life that is very much rooted in the capitalist mode of production. Marx describes the manner in which “labor-power” is sold as a commodity for a sum representing not just subsistence, but replacement.

The owner of labor-power is mortal. If then his appearance in the market is to be continuous, and the continuous transformation of money into capital assumes this, the seller of labor-power must perpetuate himself  “in the way that every living individual perpetuates himself, by procreation.” The labor-power withdrawn from the market by wear and tear, and by death, must be continually replaced by, at the very least, an equal amount of fresh labor-power. Hence the sum of the means of subsistence necessary for the production of labor-power must include the means necessary for the worker’s replacements, i.e., his children, in order that this race of peculiar commodity-owners may perpetuate its presence on the market.12

Since the perpetuation of labor power is one of the expected functions of the working class, the ruling class will assert its interest in regulating, monitoring, and intervening to ensure effective reproduction, just as it asserts control over the working class in all other areas of production.

Under precapitalist systems, production centered on the home and the family, and gender roles and family structure were idealized to reflect those needs. As production moved away from the home, the division of labor and idealized structure of the family evolved around the nuclear family’s roles of furnishing wage labor outside the home and raising the next generation of workers. Sharon Smith encapsulates the idea very concisely:

[T]he nuclear family remains a system for privatized reproduction.... [R]uling class families produce the next ruling class, and working families produce the next generation of workers.... [T]oday’s capitalists take precious little responsibility for the legion of workers whose labor produces their profits.... The working class family is extremely valuable to the capitalist system as a cheap means of reproducing labor power. The large-scale entry of working class women into the workforce hasn’t changed that fact. Working class women are expected to do both.13

The idealization of the nuclear family is very much in the interest of capitalism, as is the expectation that working-class families will be able simultaneously to provide labor under exploitive conditions while reproducing their labor power in the form of children. So as a general proposition, state intervention to regulate working-class families is justified to enforce those expectations. 

The Orphan Trains—then and now
In pre-industrial America, there were informal practices to help needy families by providing some basic assistance at the parish or community level, along with the opportunity to place children on farms or as apprentices to provide for their care. Children were an economic asset close to home, so there wasn’t a need for state intervention or organized charity. As the population grew and became urbanized, and as mass immigration fueled the growth of cities, there was a growing consciousness of the urban poor among the ruling class. Early responses included jailing children for vagrancy, and warehousing them in poorhouses. Motivated in part by fear of producing a criminal underclass, a patrician reformer named Charles Loring Brace created the Children’s Aid Society in New York, which became a crucial model for modern foster care. In appealing for support from his own class, Brace reminded his readers:

These boys and girls, it should be remembered, will soon form the great lower class of our city. They will influence elections; they may shape the policy of the city; they will assuredly, if unreclaimed, poison society all around them. They will help to form the great multitude of robbers, thieves and vagrants who are now such a burden on the law-respecting community.14

Brace said he was saving children—mainly Catholic immigrants—from the evil influence of their parents and communities, and placing them with good American (presumably Protestant) families, preferably far away from the city. He organized groups of children on what became known as Orphan Trains and sent them west in search of homes. (It’s noteworthy that only a small percentage of the riders of the Orphan Trains were actually orphans. The popularization of the name is an indication that the existence of biological parents was an inconvenient circumstance for the bourgeois charities.) 

The assumption was that handing children off to strangers with no real vetting was better than providing assistance to their families or placing them with a relative or in their own community. In time, Catholic organizations formed to place Catholic children, and Jewish organizations to place Jewish children, but they were modeled on Children’s Aid, minus the bias toward Protestantism. 

The arrogance of that approach is still with us, and the Orphan Train mentality is echoed in the treatment of the children of undocumented parents today. A year-long investigation by the Applied Research Center, the publisher of Colorlines, found that more than 5,000 children of undocumented parents were remanded into foster care when their parents were detained for deportation.15 In one case, a mother learned at the airport that her child would not be accompanying her to Guatemala, and a judge later reasoned that it was undoubtedly in the child’s best interest to be raised by a middle-class family in the United States rather than return to an impoverished village in Guatemala with a parent who had committed the “crime” of crossing the border illegally. 

Similarly, a 2011 investigation by National Public Radio found that South Dakota routinely ignores federal law in order to remove Native American children for placement with middle-class white families.16 This builds on a long, genocidal history of removal and placement in Indian boarding schools, on the assumption that it was necessary to separate children from their families and communities in order to integrate them into (white) “civilization.” In 1878, an official from the Bureau of Indian Affairs reasoned:

It must be manifest to all practical minds that to place these wild children under the teacher’s care but four or five hours a day, and permit them to spend the other nineteen in the filth and degradation of the village, makes the attempt to educate and civilize them a mere farce.17

Richard Pratt, an army officer who founded the first of the boarding schools, famously described the aim as being to “kill the Indian and save the man.” Nearly 100 schools were created, based on Pratt’s method of “assimilation by total immersion.” Children were punished for speaking native languages, and were subjected to instruction highlighting the superiority of white American culture to Indian life. The assimilation mission persisted into the 1960s, and a few off-reservation boarding schools still exist.18

Native peoples fought for the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), passed by Congress in 1978, which gave tribes and native parents the right to intervene in child welfare cases involving Indian children. In a recent case, the US Supreme Court began to roll back ICWA, in holding that a non-custodial Cherokee father could not prevent his daughter from being adopted by a white couple. The Court said allowing the father to “play his ICWA trump card at the eleventh hour” would harm “vulnerable children” because “many prospective adoptive parents would surely pause before adopting any child who might possibly qualify as an Indian under the ICWA.”19 In other words, some children might lose the benefit of being adopted by a white couple if ICWA was not weakened.

The Children’s Exodus
The two-month strike of textile workers in Lawrence, Massachusetts, which began in January of 1912, later known as the Bread and Roses Strike, was a milestone in US labor history. One of the most remarkable aspects of the textile strike was the manner in which the strikers and their allies organized to temporarily house and care for the children of the striking workers. As the strike wore on, the Italian Socialist Federation presented a plan, inspired by strikes in Italy but never before used in a US strike. This became known as the Children’s Exodus, and it can be fairly characterized as a working-class form of foster care.20 

Strike-supporting families were recruited and screened, and parents and children in Lawrence were prepared for the pain of separation. Two groups of children totaling more than 250 left Lawrence. The strike’s supporters contributed money for the care, support, and entertainment of the children while they were in the care of these temporary guardians. All of the children were seen by doctors, and most made their first trips to zoos, circuses, and museums. 

The support of the working class for the exodus was countered by howls of outrage from the government authorities and charitable establishment in Lawrence and beyond. Although no laws had been broken, after the first exodus the commander of the militia troops guarding the textile mills announced that no further groups of children would be permitted to leave the city. The head of Massachusetts’ Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children lamented that he had no legal authority to prevent the removals. The city’s mayor pronounced that it was the city’s responsibility to take care of children if their parents were unable to do so. Showing a stunning appreciation for irony, the mayor of a city in which the use of legal and illegal child labor was ubiquitous accused the strikers of “exploiting” the children. Newspapers trumpeted the fact that the children had been sent to stay with anarchists and socialists, who would be a corrupting influence on innocent children.

An attempt to send a third contingent of children was blocked by police, who clubbed parents into submission, arresting some with their children. The judge fined the parents for disturbing the peace, and then sent the “neglected” children to the local poorhouse to be cared for by the city. While the standards of care were demonstrably lower in the institution than in the homes of the volunteer host families, the children could no doubt be kept safe from radical contamination.

The Children’s Exodus is important not simply as part of the history of the strike, but for what it says about bourgeois assumptions about child welfare intervention. The oppressive response illustrates the point that the child welfare system—which was still emerging in its modern form in 1912—exists in large part to exercise social control over poor families, and to meet the needs of capital before those of families. By demonstrating its own capacity to organize an alternative based on working-class solidarity and respect for parents, the organizers of the exodus had issued a challenge the system was unable to ignore.

Moving toward a racialized child welfare system
One area where dramatic change has occurred is in the treatment of African American children. Early on, there were a few segregated orphanages, but the foster care system largely excluded Black children, for better or worse, because they primarily lived in the rural South, where there was very little state intervention or organized charity.

Under slavery, the legal head of the family was the slavemaster, not the parent of a child born into slavery. The destruction of families was one of the most vicious effects of chattel slavery, and provided a powerful impetus for Black resistance. Leaders of slave rebellions such as Denmark Vesey and Nat Turner were separated from their children by slavery. Sojourner Truth took the extraordinary step of going to court to prevent her son from being illegally sold and transported south during the period in which slavery was being phased out in New York State.21 Harriet Tubman had the example of her mother using force to prevent the sale of Harriet’s brother, and she herself made her first trip back into a slave state to free her niece, who was about to be separated from her family by sale.22 

One of the participants in the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 was a freed slave named Dangerfield Newby, whose family remained in slavery. Newby signed on to the Harper’s Ferry insurrection in the hopes of sparking a wider rebellion. The white and Black participants intended to establish a Provisional Republic, holding mountain territory in what became West Virginia, in the belief that this would force the hand of the Northern states to overthrow the slave regime. An article in the Provisional Constitution drafted before the raid read: “The marriage relation shall be at all times respected, and families kept together as far as possible, and broken families encouraged to unite, and intelligence offices established for that purpose.”23 

After emancipation, one of the first tasks of the Freedmen’s Bureau established by the federal government as a Reconstruction measure was to facilitate the reunification of families separated by slavery. Two trends quickly emerged, however. As white opposition to radical change in the power structure of the South limited the possibilities for real reform, the Freedmen’s Bureau increasingly became a “vast labor bureau”—an intermediary for Black fathers, as heads of reunited families, to enter into contracts with white landowners to supply the families’ labor.24 Pressure was also put on families to “apprentice” their children to plantation owners as a means of preserving the plantation system deemed essential to the economy of the South. The Black Codes allowed Black children to be declared vagrants and placed as apprentices, making their labor available to plantation owners. Mississippi went so far as to give the child’s former slavemaster priority in acquiring his labor, effectively reestablishing the master and slave relationship.25 There was, in any event, no attempt to recreate or strengthen family life for the child. 

For a time, white Northern reformers became captivated by an idealized mission of civilizing “freedom’s children,” the offspring of former slaves. The assumption was that their parents were incapable of contributing to this effort, so one function of newly established schools was to counter the influence of the ignorant and debased adult Black population. In an echo of the Orphan Train concept, some Black children were sent north to live—and work for—white families. “The irony,” writes one historian, “of sending former slave children hundreds of miles away to fill the needs of northern employers for dishwashers and household servants—in the aftermath of a system of slavery that had divided Black families for generations and a sectional conflict that had ended the interstate trade in human beings—seems to have escaped some of their sponsors entirely.”26 In any event, the importance of Black children to the economy of the South resulted in active discouragement of this practice. 

After Reconstruction, repression and economic pressure ensured that Black children remained a source of cheap labor. In some places, the state did intervene, as occurred when Malcolm X’s father was killed—probably by a white supremacist group in Michigan—and his mother was placed in a mental hospital. Malcolm was taken into foster care by the county. But the transformation of foster care into a system predominantly populated by Black children really occurred over the decades following the mechanization of Southern agriculture and the urbanization of the Black poor. 

At the same time, the federal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, which began as a Depression-era entitlement from which Blacks were often excluded by discriminatory state eligibility standards, began to grow. It was never a program that primarily benefitted Blacks, but as the exclusionary barriers were struck down and a higher percentage of Blacks left the semi-slavery of sharecropping for segregated urban neighborhoods with little access to stable employment, more Black families ended up on AFDC. The program became more unpopular as the scapegoating of “welfare queens” became a vicious meme reinforcing racist and sexist stereotypes and fueling the impulse to police poor families. 

Prior to 1962, foster care was solely funded by states. AFDC was federally funded, but states determined eligibility. Louisiana and other states excluded homes where children were born out of wedlock, because they said the parents were presumptively “unfit”—the policy was to not give money to unfit parents—evidenced in Louisiana’s cutting off 23,000 children from the rolls in one fell swoop. Arthur Flemming, President Kennedy’s Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, ruled that states could only exclude those children if they investigated the homes and found the parents unfit, in which case they’d have to remove the children. There was an outcry from states fearing escalating foster care costs if they targeted unmarried parents for investigation instead of just summarily cutting their children from the AFDC rolls. In a remarkable demonstration of what happens when liberals and conservatives work together in the field of child welfare, Congress responded by codifying the “Flemming Rule” in federal law, and allowed AFDC funds to be used to offset the extra costs of foster care.27 

• • •

The next phase in the story concerns the liberal response to the racist backlash against the war on poverty and the welfare rights movement. Liberals in Congress decided to decouple the issue of poverty and race from child welfare, and to ride the crest of a wave of national concern over child abuse. The result was the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1974. CAPTA funded services to prevent and address child maltreatment, and required states to set up reporting and investigation systems. Its sponsors emphasized that child abuse cuts across all lines of race and class, which is true. In the process they obscured the relationship of race and poverty to allegations of neglect, which account for the vast majority of state interventions into families.28 CAPTA sets up a “treatment model” that essentially conflates the categories. 

Marion Wright Edelman, who has been a powerful voice expressing the connections between race, systemic poverty, and child welfare, described the dilemma for progressives and liberals in responding to the backlash. “Because we recognized that support for whatever was labeled black and poor was shrinking…new ways had to be found to articulate and respond to the continuing problems of poverty and race.”29 

For many, the “new way” involved removing any discussion of race and racialized poverty from policy advocacy, and emphasizing treatment and rehabilitation. The effect was to obscure the institutional racism in which poverty and its consequent problems for children are rooted, and to focus on the perceived failures and pathology of people caught up in the system.

So in a typical case a parent doesn’t need child care, she needs parenting classes. She doesn’t need affordable housing, or a living wage, or adequate income for food; she needs budgeting help and nutrition training. If she disagrees with the treatment plan, she’s in denial and needs counseling, and if she vehemently disagrees, she may need anger management classes. If there’s something she really does need, like addiction treatment, it may not be available without a long wait, and it may be in a program that can’t accommodate parents. Her reward if she does everything right is to be described as “compliant,” giving her a better chance of getting her kids back.

With children, too, the system tends to hand out labels. If a child acts up after being taken from his or her home and put into care, the behavior may be said to be a product of the pathological home environment. Children in foster care are far more likely to be medicated and pushed into classrooms for kids with “serious emotional disturbance” than the general school-age population.30 A bonus for labeling the child is that the foster parent and agency may be entitled to a higher rate for foster care, meaning that the amount available ostensibly for the benefit of the child is much greater when he or she is in care than it ever was or will be with the child at home.

There was a renewal of interest in preserving and reunifying families in legislation passed in 1980, the Adoption Assistance and Child Welfare Act. In design, the law was supposed to put greater effort into preventing removals and expediting returns or adoption—addressing the inertia of “foster care drift” that keeps children in foster care for years or until adulthood. The reunification/prevention requirements, however, were simply imposed on the treatment model, and the relationship of foster care and racialized poverty was not acknowledged. The system maintained a colorblind perspective that continued to ignore rising disproportionality and blame parents for being poor. 

The war on drugs and the onset of neoliberal attacks on the welfare state put more and more kids into care. The response under President Clinton was the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) of 1997, which essentially said that “permanency” (defined as leaving foster care) trumps family preservation. If a child has remained in foster care for fifteen out of twenty-two months, the system is supposed to move toward terminating parental rights in order to “free” the child for adoption. This is because ASFA’s prioritization of “permanency” outweighs any residual attachment the child may have to the parent from whom she is separated. In the case of divorce law, there is no similar devaluing of a child’s relationship to a non-custodial parent, because laws written specifically to regulate poor families are far less deferential to family ties.

There are financial incentives to encourage adoption, and to encourage agencies to “free” children and finalize adoption. Nevertheless, many kids don’t want to be adopted, while others linger in foster care because of a lack of adoptive parents.

Over-representation of Black children
The seminal work on race in foster care, Dorothy Roberts’ book, Shattered Bonds: the Color of Foster Care, describes the similarities between mass incarceration and foster care. 

Considering the impact of incarceration on Black families reveals a relationship between the child welfare system and the criminal justice system. The most direct connection is that imprisoning parents throws many children into foster care. But there are other less obvious and more profound systemic associations between criminal justice and child welfare. Demographically, the two institutions are remarkably similar. They are both populated almost exclusively by poor people, and by grossly disproportionate numbers of Blacks.31

Roberts notes that the spatial concentration of state intervention means that in neighborhoods like Mott Haven or Central Harlem in New York, or West Lawndale in Chicago, the extraordinarily high numbers of Black males in state custody or subject to state control through the criminal justice system is accompanied by a similar concentration of children in custody and women and families subject to state control through the child welfare system.32 One more link is the gross over-representation of foster care alumni in juvenile justice facilities and penal institutions.

While the disproportionate representation of Black children in foster care is undeniable, there has been a backlash among some academics, commentators, and policy-makers about ascribing any role to institutional racism. A special report in a regional newspaper on foster care in Los Angeles County acknowledged that Black children and youth were represented in foster care at three and a half times their proportion to the county’s general child population, but argued that racism had no relevance.33 

The work of Roberts and others was first oversimplified as an attempt to blame “institutional racism and bias by social workers” for disproportional placement. Then, Roberts’ work was dismissed as having “lost steam” in light of data showing that “the number of black children in foster care is almost identical to the percentage of black social workers,” meaning that, “if racism is a factor, then the racism would come from a staff made up mostly of ethnic minorities.”34

The argument conflates institutional racism inherent in the foster care system with self-mediated bigotry and bias by individuals employed within the system. Having done so, it assumes that if the individuals are unlikely to bring racist attitudes into the system, the system as a whole must be free of racism.

The LA County report cites the Fourth National Incidence Study of Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4), which found that maltreatment of Black children occurs at about 1.7 times the national average. What is not noted is that the NIS-4 is based on a survey of “sentinels”—professionals who typically file reports of abuse and neglect. Black families are more likely to encounter these “sentinels” in their daily lives, and professionals—perhaps unconsciously—often perceive Black parents differently. Another factor is explicitly set out in the NIS-4 as an explanation for growth in the gap between NIS surveys. “Income, or socioeconomic status, is the strongest predictor of maltreatment rates, but since the time of the NIS–3, incomes of Black families have not kept pace with the incomes of White families.”35

Much of the “new data” the LA County report cites in support of its “race doesn’t matter” thesis simply correlates poverty and associated risk factors (low birth weight, for example) to placement in foster care. Separating race and poverty, however, takes the child welfare system out of the context in which it operates. 

The impulse to do so has some powerful voices. Elizabeth Bartholet, a Harvard law professor, has made a career out of essentially denying that race is an issue in child welfare. She says, “The bottom line is that there is absolutely no evidence of system bias. What we do have is overwhelming evidence that there are higher black maltreatment rates.”36 

Bartholet’s work has been influential in prioritizing “permanency.” In her 1999 book Nobody’s Children: Abuse, Neglect, Foster Drift and the Adoption Alternative,37 she argues that reform means “freeing” children for adoption much faster and more readily, which means quickly abandoning efforts to preserve bonds with parents she deems inferior. 

Bartholet’s particular preoccupation is transracial adoption, making it easier for white parents to adopt Black children from foster care. Bartholet is frustrated that the Multi-Ethnic Placement Act of 1994, which outlawed racial matching in foster care, did not result in more children being placed in white homes. She claims that prioritizing kinship resources (placing children with relatives) and demanding that foster parents respect the culture of the children placed with them are just covert attempts to keep Black children out of white homes, and should therefore be legislated away. 

Claiming the mantle of feminism, Bartholet justifies devaluing the bonds of Black mothers and children. As Dorothy Roberts notes, “Bartholet explicitly argues that this effort to separate black mothers from their children is feminist because the demand by the battered women’s movement that the state ‘punish male perpetrators and liberate their female victims’ supports a similarly coercive approach to child abuse and neglect.”38 Bartholet has also become the go-to expert on international adoption, arguing after the 2010 Haitian earthquake that adoptions of Haitian children should be expedited, because “social science makes clear that international adoptees are extremely well treated, with their prospects for overcoming early deprivation dramatically improved by early placement.”39

Whether she is discussing victims of the Haitian earthquake or the American economy, Bartholet’s prescription for “unparented children” is the same. What matters is the speed with which we can funnel them into new, better homes with new, better, wealthier parents.

The echoes of the mindset that led to the Orphan Trains, Indian boarding schools, and educational planning for “freedom’s children” are unmistakable, but Bartholet is also very much in step with the policymakers behind the push toward a quicker path to “permanency.” In effect, over-representation of Black children is seen as evidence that Black parents are simply more likely to maltreat their children. The policy response is a “colorblind” system that ignores race generally and disproportionately, and concentrates on removing barriers to adoption.

The denial that institutional racism is relevant to disproportional representation serves a purpose. It helps us to avoid the conclusion that foster care cannot be separated from its environment. An economic order that consigns 40 percent of Black children to poverty will necessarily over-represent Black children in foster care. If we limit our consideration to obvious bias within the foster care system itself—essentially redefining the term “institutional racism” out of existence—we can tolerate the status quo. 

The limits of liberal reform
One of the most overused phrases in child welfare reform is “paradigm shift,” which is often used to describe incremental reforms. In the context of social welfare institutions, Canadian “structural social worker” Bob Mullaly’s analysis of paradigms is useful. Mullaly defines a paradigm as consisting of an ideology that informs an analysis of social problems, which in turn is reflected in the design of institutions that then implement practices.40 The dominant neoliberal paradigm is one that attributes child neglect to personal failures, even when they are caused by poverty. There is a difference of degree in that conservatives might say that economic poverty is caused by “moral poverty,” while liberals might be inclined to acknowledge inequity and discrimination, but as a contributing factor to the parent’s failures rather than the primary problem. Both would endorse measures to regulate the poor, with the main difference being that conservatives might lean toward more straight-up punitive measures while liberals lean toward the treatment model. Both take a colorblind approach that prevents racial disparity in the system from being addressed.

Reform efforts are typically led by professional associations, foundations, and consultants and typically tweak or add to existing models for decision-making. Goals focus on making the system more effective at guaranteeing safety and more efficient in moving children through the pipeline, and on ensuring that services meet high standards of professional practice and are validated by evidence of effectiveness. 

The sources of private philanthropy supporting reform in child welfare suggest that conventional reform will never challenge capitalism as the cause of institutionalized childhood poverty and consequent family breakdown. The largest single funder of child welfare reform projects is the Annie E. Casey Foundation, created by the late Robert Casey, the founder of United Parcel Service. While the Casey Foundation funds high-quality research and innovative pilot activities, its perspective on the relationship of capitalism to poverty is summarized in the following introduction to an initiative to develop a “two-generation poverty-alleviation strategy”:

The Casey Foundation believes that the children in greatest trouble in America today are those whose parents lack the earnings, assets, services, or social support systems required to consistently meet their families’ needs. Most of these children are growing up in impoverished communities that are disconnected from the economic mainstream.41

Poverty and oppression are not essential characteristics of the capitalist system; rather, “disconnection” from the “economic mainstream” is an anomaly that results in poverty and can be addressed by fixing families.

While the rhetoric about a “dangerous class” threatening the ruling elite is no longer heard, it can be argued that mass incarceration and militarized policing have made public disorder less of a threat than it was in the era of rapid urbanization. Instead, the concern is that reform is needed to prevent foster youth from remaining a dependent population unprepared to meet the needs of employers. 

The language of the leading professionals and funders does not suggest any willingness to challenge the fundamental cause: relegating poor and working-class children to poverty is what makes the system in its current form necessary in the first place. It is a safety valve intended to minimize the most extreme visible harm to children who are victims of neoliberal economic policies, racism, and oppression.

A real paradigm shift would begin with the recognition that poverty is a necessary feature of capitalism, and that capitalism can’t be separated from oppression based on race, class, gender, and sexuality. In our analysis of child maltreatment, we would recognize that poverty causes most cases of child maltreatment, either because of lack of income and resources, or because of the stress of poverty and reduced availability of options in dealing with family issues like substance abuse, family violence, and psychiatric disability. We would recognize further that the poor are at risk of state intervention because they are already subject to monitoring and intrusion by multiple systems that operate exclusively or more intensively in poor neighborhoods with a majority population of people of color. We would acknowledge that bias operates at all times in how we perceive poor families, particularly those headed by single Black parents, and how they are dealt with when they come into contact with the state. 

Parent advocacy reforms
Real reform would change the power relationships and allow poor and working-class communities to help families solve whatever problems are threatening the welfare of their children. This begins with supporting independent advocacy by parents who have experienced the system. 

In New York, the Child Welfare Organizing Project (CWOP) has had success organizing parents and training and supporting advocates, and in changing the dynamics of family conferencing in a pilot area in East Harlem. This is a small first step in the right direction. 

CWOP and more than a dozen similar organizations nationwide have collaborated through Rise, a magazine published by parent activists and advocates, on a statement of rights and a plan for fundamental change in child welfare.42 The plan consists of fifteen components, each beginning with the declaration of a right, including the right “not to lose my child because I’m poor,” and the right to “meaningful participation in developing the child welfare policies and practices that affect my family and community.” Each point includes “next steps” that lay out practical demands around which parents and communities can organize. Central to the Rise plan is the role of parent advocates and organizers. People employed within the system should study and organize around the plan, and should demand that the professional groups and unions to which they belong do the same, because the radical change needed within the system can only come from below—through mobilization by parents and impacted communities.

It’s noteworthy that the positive national trend of declining foster care census as a result of diversion into preventive services has been most pronounced in systems like New York, where parent organizing has a relatively long and contentious history. CWOP in particular has had an impact during its nearly two decades of existence. It began with activities like a picket outside the commissioner’s home on Thanksgiving, and at one point a directive was issued that there could be no conversation between any representative of the public agency and any representative of CWOP. Successive administrations have not only entered into dialogue with CWOP, but have begun partnering on various initiatives. While this has contributed to the effectiveness of pre-removal conferencing as a preventive strategy, it has also forced CWOP to adopt a less confrontational posture. There is an acknowledged risk that becoming an insider can blunt the effectiveness of organizing from below, and even raise the possibility of cooptation.43 Parent organizing efforts have to strike and re-strike that balance continually to remain effective.

The Foster Parent Advocacy (FPA) Foundation has a similar mission to organize foster parents independently of the public and private child welfare agencies in order to engage in self-advocacy and collective action. Foster homes are overwhelmingly working-class households, where all of the day-to-day caregiving takes place. The ideology of the system holds that the work foster parents do cannot be compensated without destroying the substitute family relationship the system seeks to create. If they are paid, the logic goes, they will be more like professional caregivers than parents. These relationships are, however, commonly subjected to intrusive oversight, supervision, and regulation of activity, features more consistent with employment than parenthood. The median compensation for the CEO’s of twenty-seven of the city’s foster care agencies reviewed for this article was over $250,000.44 High-ranking officials of public child welfare agencies commonly retire or resign to accept executive positions within the nonprofit foster care establishment, allowing them to cap off their careers in the service of children with a high salary and generous benefits. We should question a system that polices the actual caregivers to make sure they are not benefiting in any financial way from the care they are providing, while generously compensating the executives, lawyers, and public administrators running the system, and also paying—albeit much less generously—the case workers and other employees working under them.

Importantly, FPA has a twin focus on organizing foster youth. Older youth age out of foster care between eighteen and twenty-one, and approximately one in four will experience homelessness within four years of exiting the system.45 Longitudinal studies in various parts of the country have shown extremely high rates of incarceration, unemployment, and lack of access to health care among former foster youth.46 The prevailing rhetoric emphasizes preparing youth for independence, academic success, and employment, but the state does an extraordinarily poor job. 

A significant segment of the foster youth population is affected by homophobic legislation in the child welfare system. When Arkansas passed a referendum in 2008 prohibiting LGBTQ people from adopting or fostering, it was recognized by many as a terrible violation of the civil rights of prospective parents. We should also add that it’s an assault on many of the children who enter care, particularly adolescents. The rejection of LBGTQ youth by family, and consequent remand to the care of the state, is common enough that such youth form a substantial segment of the foster care population. What does it say when the state that assumes parental responsibility defines them legally as second-class citizens? How much harder does that make it to find welcoming homes? The problem isn’t just confined to states that codify homophobia in their laws. Even in New York City, where the current child welfare commissioner is a married gay man and adoptive parent, the system relies on foster care agencies affiliated with religious institutions that discriminate, and recruiting practices for foster parents often involve such institutions. 

In the 1980s, Catholic foster care agencies in New York City asserted their power by withholding beds—essentially staging a partial shutdown—in order to preserve their right to discriminate against LGBTQ people in hiring. An artificial crisis was created, and children were warehoused in hospitals, offices, and overcapacity congregate-care settings, and the diocese was able to get the city to back away from enforcement of its anti-discrimination laws against publicly funded faith-based foster care agencies.47

 There is a dual system, with initiatives designed to find welcoming homes for children already identified as LGBTQ, but without regard to children who may so identify some time in the future. The city takes responsibility for finding homes, but in doing so may be guaranteeing that some children will experience rejection and oppression from the parents to whom they are handed over. 

Both CWOP and FPA show a vital recognition that change in the system will have to come from the mobilization of those living within the system rather than from the public and nonprofit bureaucracy. 

Mobilizations and coalition building
Colorlines has promoted mobilizations around individual cases of undocumented parents who face deportation, with their children remaining in foster care in the United States. Just as there are important mobilizations around cases of victims of police violence and oppression, there should be further mobilizations around cases of injustice in the child welfare system. Such struggles, if they are successful, will suggest the need for further and broader struggle, and identify the economic injustice and racism that have shaped the system. 

The justifiable unpopularity of the child welfare system in the communities in which it has the most visible presence is a major barrier to collaboration between frontline workers, parents, and families; foster parents, foster youth, and community activists. Nevertheless, there is the potential for such collaboration and solidarity. 

Child welfare worker union solidarity with parents
The pressures that cause families to come into conflict with the system are largely beyond the control of workers. The combination of high caseloads and demanding documentation requirements guarantee that investigations are lengthy, intrusive, and demeaning. The scapegoating that occurs when the system fails forces workers to be hyper-vigilant. A precedent was set in New York City in 2011 when the tragic death of a child at the hands of her mother resulted in the indictment of child protective workers charged with investigating the family in the months before the child’s death.48 Other factors, such as the fact that services in place for the family had been terminated without the workers being notified, or the inadequacy of the mental health services available to the mother, did not prevent the workers from being charged.49

Workers in the child welfare system are also being attacked by the austerity and privatization agenda. At its extreme, privatization resulted in the entire Miami-Dade system being contracted out. Salaries for executives nearly doubled and costs increased, but there is no real evidence of improvement of services.50 More typically, privatization occurs incrementally, as systems rely more on contracted services and consultants for functions once performed by public employees. Austerity results in layoffs and personnel reductions by attrition, flat wages and benefit givebacks, and increased workloads. 

Unionized workers should develop strategies for building alliances with organizing efforts among parents, foster parents, and foster youth, including forming caucuses within unions and cross-union groups to pressure their unions and locals. Non-unionized workers should engage in organizing efforts not simply to fight off threats to their jobs and the terms and conditions of employment, but to pursue social-justice goals in collaboration with impacted families and communities.

For workers in the system, building alliances with organizing efforts will require humility and openness to criticism. Any such effort will have to be undertaken with a willingness to acknowledge that the professions represented in child welfare—social workers, attorneys, and clinicians—have their own cultures that contribute to the repressive nature of the system. An effective labor strategy cannot focus exclusively on the protection of jobs, wages, and benefits, because those jobs exist within a bureaucracy created to police poor, disproportionately Black families. A struggle to change the relationship of the child welfare system to the people employed within the system must be inextricably linked to the struggle to change its relationship to the families and communities over which it exerts control. 

A coalition-building strategy will require identifying common ground with the leaders of organizing efforts, developing mutual goals, providing support and solidarity for efforts unique to particular segments of the coalition, and ultimately undertaking action as allies. It will also have to include a commitment to goals that workers may not identify as their immediate priority. For example, an agency taking the position that it can avoid layoffs only by cutting daycare vouchers should be confronted with an organized workforce that resists each alternative with the same vigor. 

In the current climate, conversations about changing the child welfare system can turn into radical challenges to the dominant paradigm, and the objective should be to join the struggle against child welfare as a system of social control and oppression with the struggles against mass incarceration, the war on labor, and other assaults on the working class. 

The search for alternatives
Advocates for a greater investment in child welfare spending in the United States often draw comparisons to Scandinavia and the child welfare systems developed before the general retreat from social democracy. “Structural” social worker Bob Mullaly, for one, cites what he calls the “evolutionary Marxist” approach of social democracy with approval, and singles out Sweden for particular praise.51 

In 2008, UNICEF ranked Sweden at the top of all nations surveyed in the category of child welfare. Even as neoliberalism has whittled away at the welfare state under the rule of the Christian Democrats, Sweden has not appreciably changed the child welfare system created by the Social Democrats. So is Sweden a model to be emulated?

By US standards, the array of supports provided to families is extensive, which may reduce the demands of out-of-home care. Certainly, the commitment to providing support and services before family crises is worth fighting for. Sweden intervenes aggressively, however, based on the relatively vague standards in its child welfare laws. Intervention may be warranted, for example, if a child is displaying “any socially destructive behavior.” There is tremendous discretion for social workers and administrators. In 2006, one in two thousand children of affluent families was taken into care before age seven, while for single parents receiving income support, the comparable figure was one in seven.52 

Thus, the reformist social democratic approach, which is attractive to many liberal and progressive professional policy development organizations, doesn’t eliminate the class bias of foster care. We may need to be more creative in our search for inspiration and look to times and places where the potential for a meaningful alternative was seen, even if it was not institutionalized, and even where it was part of a class defeat.

We should look to examples like the Children’s Exodus, or the brief period after the Russian Revolution when the Zhenotdel, or women’s section, under the leadership of Alexandra Kollontai, sent a small army of organizers out to help set up child care and communal baking and laundry arrangements in factories and villages throughout the Soviet Union.53 The objective was to engage families and communities in identifying needs and crafting solutions. While the Zhenotdel was not uniformly successful and operated only briefly before being overwhelmed by the devastation of the Civil War and the Stalinist counterrevolution, it—like the Children’s Exodus—provides a glimpse of the potential for the working class to organize to support children and families on their own terms rather than those of capital.

Cuba, even under a regime which has implemented a problematic and repressive version of socialism, has offered a model for child welfare that avoids the top-down decision-making and stigmatization of the US foster care system. Features that stand out are a separation of material needs (responsibility for which is shared with local networks) from proceedings to judge the parents’ fitness to raise their children. The Minnesota State Bar Association, which is unlikely to be a nest of apologists for the Cuban Revolution, described Cuba’s approach to child welfare in this way:

Cuban child welfare law seems to make it very hard to be a bad parent; community-based child welfare nets, including schools and neighborhoods, are active in child-rearing. Removal of a child from biological parents is rare and typically occurs only where the parent has committed a crime against the child or has behavioral problems.54

There will continue to be a need for intervention to protect children whose safety is jeopardized, even when the root causes of the threats relate to poverty and the forms of oppression that are inseparable from capitalism. For the foreseeable future, it will be necessary to work to minimize the extent that poverty is equated with bad parenting, promote reforms that strengthen the role of families and communities when intervention must occur, confront bias and institutionalized racism within the child welfare system, and support organizing and activism among parents, foster parents, foster youth, and frontline workers. In the latter endeavor, we should look for opportunities to build linkages between all the families, individuals, and communities affected by the system. 

Child welfare under socialism?
Even a complete restructuring of social and economic relationships under socialism would not eliminate the need for intervention, including out-of-home care. Such change would, however, make it possible to address exploitation and chronic unemployment, lack of adequate housing, shortages of health and child care, and the problems associated with mass incarceration. Because impoverishment of a substantial portion of the population would no longer be a necessary feature of the economic order, the stresses and insecurity that manifest in family breakdown would also begin to abate. Fewer and fewer children would be living in circumstances that would make intervention likely. Such change, moreover, would eliminate capital’s need for “soft cops” to monitor and control poor and working-class families of color, just as it would eliminate the need for “hard cops” to maintain the rule of the bourgeoisie. Just as communities would be able to separate collective efforts to maintain public order and safety from class control and racial oppression, they would also separate child safety and wellbeing from these state roles. Addressing the ravages of capitalism on children, especially children of color, would change the scale and nature of the child welfare system. 

As Frederick Engels argued, the state is needed as “an organization of the particular…exploiting class, for the maintenance of its external conditions of production, and, therefore, especially, for the purpose of forcibly keeping the exploited classes in the condition of oppression corresponding with the given mode of production.”55 When the state ceases to function in that role it ceases to exist in its current form and is no longer the state as we recognize it based on our experience. New possibilities will open up for organizing to meet social needs. At the same time, the private family will no longer bear
the material burden of rearing children and reproducing labor power, as it does under capitalism. The socialization of many functions that today are relegated to the efforts of resource and cash-strapped families will allow all members of society the freedom to experiment and discover the best means to raise children without economic hardship or compulsion. In the realm of child welfare, it will be possible to envision completely different ways of solving the problems of families, without the need for large public and non-governmental bureaucracies to administer out-of-home care and courts to maintain a
layer of due process. Instead, a much smaller, less punitive system will develop through the efforts of neighbors, extended family and providers of health care, mental health services, parenting support, and child care to identify and address cases of child maltreatment that still occur.

  1. New York City Administration for Children’s Services; “Update Five-Year Trend FY 2005–FY 2009,” www.nyc.gov/html/acs/downloads/pdf/stats_5_year_2009.pdf.
  2. Nicholas Zill, “Adoption from Foster Care: Aiding Children While Saving Public Money,” Brookings Institute, May 2011, www.brookings.edu/research/reports/2011/05/adoption-foster-care-zill.
  3. Lori Pyter, “How Race, Poverty and Foster Care are Connected,” Milwaukee Journal-Sentinal, December 25, 2008.
  4. Andrea J. Sedlak, Karla McPherson, and Barnali Das, “Fourth National Incidence Report on Child Abuse and Neglect (NIS-4): Supplementary Analyses of Race Differences in Child Maltreatment Rates in the NIS-4,” US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, March 2010, 1; www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/opre/resource/s....
  5. African American children were 14 percent of the total child population in 2008, but 31 percent of children in foster care. American Indian/Alaskan Native children were 1 percent of total child population, but accounted for 2 percent of foster care placements. White children, on the other hand, were 56 percent of the child population, but accounted for 40 percent of foster care population, while Asian children were 4 percent of child population and 1 percent of those in care. Hispanic children were 22 percent of the child population and 20 percent of those in care. (“Addressing racial disproportionality in child welfare,” US Department of Health and Human Services, Child Welfare Information Gateway, 2011; available at www.childwelfare.gov/pubs/issue_briefs/racial_disproportionality/racialdisp1.cfm.
  6. Recent data and research indicates that Latinos in the third generation of residence in the United States are beginning to appear in a pattern of over-representation in foster care. Daniel Heimphel, “Americanization, Latinos and the Future of Foster Care,” Chronicle of Social Change, April 17, 2013, https://chronicleofsocialchange.org/analysis/2013/04/17/americanization-latino-families-and-the-future-of-foster-care/.
  7. Dorothy Roberts, “Prison, Foster Care and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers,” UCLA Law Review, Vol. 59, Issue 6, August 2012, 1,488.
  8. Dorothy Roberts, “Feminism, Race and Adoption Policy,” Incite! Women of Color Against Violence (Cambridge, MA: South End Press, 2006), 46.
  9. Nicholson v. Scoppetta, 344 F.3d 154 (2d Cir. 2003), 3 N.Y.2d 357, 786 N.Y.S.2d196 (2004).
  10. Roberts “Feminism, Race, and Adoption Policy,” 50. 
  11. Charles Loring Brace, The Dangerous Classes of New York and Twenty Years’ Work Among Them (New York: Wynkoop & Hallenbeck, 1872), 27.
  12. Karl Marx, Capital, Vol. 1 (London: Penguin Books, 1990), 275.
  13. Sharon Smith, Women and Socialism: Essays on Women’s Liberation (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2005), 54–55.
  14. Quoted in Steven O’Connor, Orphan Trains: the Story of Charles Loring Brace and the Children He Saved and Failed (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 2001), 84.
  15. “Shattered Families: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System,” Applied Research Center, November 2011, arc.org/shatteredfamilies; Seth Freed Wessler, “Thousands of Kids Lost from Parents in US Deportation System,” Colorlines, November 2, 2011.
  16. Laura Sullivan and Amy Walters, “Incentives and Cultural Bias Fuel Foster System,” NPR, www.npr.org/2011/10/25/141662357/incentives-and-cultural-bias-fuel-foster-system.
  17. David Wallace Adams, Educating for Extinction: American Indians and the Boarding School Experience, 1875–1928 (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1995), 23.
  18. Charla Bear, “American Indian Boarding Schools Haunt Many,” National Public Radio, May 12, 2008, www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=16516865.
  19. Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, Slip Op. No. 12-399 at 16 (US 2013).
  20. The account of the Children’s Exodus is based generally on Bruce Watson, Bread and Roses: Migrants and the Struggle for the American Dream (New York: Viking Press, 2005), 141–79.
  21. “Narrative of Sojourner Truth,” (1850), digital.library.upenn.edu/women/truth/1850/1850.html#16.
  22. Kate Larsen, Bound for the Promised Land (New York: Ballantine Books, 2004), 33, 89–90.
  23. Truman Nelson, The Old Man: John Brown at Harper’s Ferry (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2009), 69–71.
  24. W. E. B. DuBois, “The Freedmen’s Bureau,” Atlantic Monthly 87 (1901), 354–65, 361. 
  25. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, “W. E. B. Du Bois: Black Reconstruction in America 1860-1880,” International Socialist Review 57, January–February 2008.
  26. Mary Niall Mitchell, Raising Freedom’s Child: Black Children and Visions of the Future after Slavery (New York: New York University Press, 2008), 95–96.
  27. See Hearings on H.R. 10032 before the House Committee on Ways and Means, 87th Cong., 2d Sess., 294–97, 305–07, (1962).
  28. In New York City in 2011, of the more than 20,000 cases “indicated” (or substantiated after investigation by a Child Protective Specialist), 81 percent were indicated for neglect alone, 3 percent for abuse alone, and 15 percent for some combination of abuse and neglect.
  29. Judith Sealander, The Failed Century of the Child: Governing America’s Young in the Twentieth Century (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 2003), 3.
  30. “Educational Outcomes for Children and Youth in Foster and Out-of-Home Care,” Education Law Center of Pennsylvania, 2007.
  31. Dorothy Roberts, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (New York: Basic Civitas, 2002), 200–01.
  32. Ibid; also see Roberts, “The Racial Geography of Child Welfare: Toward a New Research Paradigm,” Child Welfare, Vol. 87, No. 2, 125.
  33. Ben Baeder, “Studies: Disproportionate Number of Black Children End up in L.A. Foster Care,” Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, March 23, 2013, www.dailybulletin.com/news/ci_22857170/studies-disproportionate-number-black-children-wind-up-l?source=most_viewed.
  34. Ibid.
  35. Sedlak et al., “Supplementary Analyses of Race Differences in Child Maltreatment Rates,” 1.
  36. Baeder, “Studies: Disproportionate Number of Black Children End up in L.A. Foster Care.”  
  37. Elizabeth Bartholet, Nobody’s Children: Abuse, Neglect, Foster Drift and the Adoption Alternative (Beacon Press, 2000).
  38. Dorothy Roberts, “Prison, Foster Care and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers,” 1,488.
  39. “Haiti’s Children and the Adoption Question,” New York Times Room for Debate Blogs, February 1, 2010, roomfordebate.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/02/01/haitis-children-and-the-adoption-question/.
  40. Bob Mullaly, Structural Social Work: Ideology, Theory and Practice, 2d ed. (Ontario: Oxford University Press, 1997), 19.
  41. “Family economic success,” Annie E. Casey Foundation, www.aecf.org/MajorInitiatives/CenterforFamilyEconomicSuccess.aspx.
  42. “From Rights to Reality: A Plan for Parent Advocacy and Family-Centered Child Welfare Reform,” Rise, 2011, www.risemagazine.org/PDF/From_Rights_to_Reality.pdf
  43. David Tobis, From Pariahs to Partners: How Parents and Their Allies Changed the New York City Child Welfare System (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), chapter 4.
  44. Review by the author of 2009 Forms 990 (Tax-Exempt Organization Information Returns) filed with the Internal Revenue Service, irs990.charityblossom.org. A small number of agencies did not have Forms 990 online, but the agencies reviewed accounts for the overwhelming majority of foster care placements in New York City.
  45. T. Reilly, “Transitions from Care: Status and Outcomes of Youth Who Age Out of Foster Care,” Child Welfare, 82, 2003,727–46.
  46. “Youth After Foster Care Statistics,” Child Welfare League of America, www.cwla.org/programs/housing/youthfostercarestats.htm.
  47. Tobis, supra, Kindle ed., Loc. 601–24.
  48. Don Lash, “Criminalizing caregivers,” Socialistworker.org, March 31, 2011, available at socialistworker.org/2011/03/31/criminalizing-caregivers.
  49. Ray Rivera, “Audit assailed group hired to aid family in abuse case,” New York Times, September 8, 2010. 
  50. Ana M. Valdes, “Kids’ death raise doubt about DCS privatizing system,” Palm Beach Post, March 8, 2011; Sally Kestin, “Salaries for Florida’s child care officials are out of control, lawmakers say,” Sun-Sentinal, April 2, 2011.
  51. In fairness, Mullaly wrote that before the Social Democrats relinquished power and Sweden began moving toward the neoliberal consensus in Europe.
  52. Cited in “A Brief Guide to Swedish Child Welfare,” Daniel Hammarberg’s blog, February 19, 2011, www.danielhammarberg.com/2011/02/a-brief-guide-to-swedish-child-welfare.
  53. Judith Orr, “Z is for Zhenotdel,” Socialist Review, September, 2009, www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=10938.
  54. “Cuba’s Legal Composite: A Blend of the Familiar and the Foreign,” Bench & Bar of Minnesota, Minnesota State Bar Association, January 11, 2012.
  55. Frederick Engels, Anti-Dühring, (1877), Part III, Ch. 2, “Theoretical,” www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1877/anti-duhring/ch24.htm.

Issue #103

Winter 2016-17

"A sense of hope and the possibility for solidarity"

Interview with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
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