Many believe the child welfare system protects children from abuse. But as Torn Apart uncovers, this system is designed to punish Black families. Drawing on decades of research, legal scholar and sociologist Dorothy Roberts reveals that the child welfare system is better understood as a "family policing system" that collaborates with law enforcement and prisons to oppress Black communities. Child protection investigations ensnare a majority of Black children, putting their families under intense state surveillance and regulation. Black children are disproportionately likely to be torn from their families and placed in foster care, driving many to juvenile detention and imprisonment.
This kind of rhetoric, on display throughout Torn Apart, makes it hard to take Ms. Roberts’s analysis seriously. And indeed, she says that, contrary to the idea that foster care rescues children from dangerous family members, children 'are much more likely to be maltreated in foster care than in their homes.' In fact, the median rate of reported maltreatment of children in foster care is well below the rate for the general population. The cherry-picked studies Ms. Roberts cites to support her case are often decades old, with tiny sample sizes. Her own research involves interviews with mothers who answer her flyers asking for their thoughts on child protective services ... When one sees Angela Davis, the feminist-Marxist activist, giving Torn Apart a gushing blurb, it’s easy to dismiss the book as a marginal work of analysis. But last month the Biden administration official in charge of child welfare compared the workers in the field 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, out of which they may never see their way.' Such views will only keep black families—all families—from getting the help they need.
Punctuated with poignant cases of systemic horrors, the compelling narrative delivers data-rich analysis that reflects decades of research, observation, and advocacy for Black children and mothers ... Readers at every level, especially policy-makers and -implementers, might well embrace this work as a primer for moving past a harmful system and creating a reimagined ideology and infrastructure to humanely care for families and keep children safe. Roberts’s latest is necessary reading.
A searing look at racial injustice in the U.S. child welfare system ... Roberts buttresses her impassioned call for dismantling the child welfare system by skillfully situating it within a larger web of institutions intended to surveil, control, and punish Black Americans. This illuminating and alarming study shatters the 'facade of benevolence' surrounding foster care.