Child Welfare is complicated

I Have Forgiven Jesus has a post up on their experiences of the child welfare system from the inside in the state of Wisconsin. I thoroughly recommend reading it:

Social services workers are almost always overworked, underpaid, and very unappreciated. There are no TV shows or movies celebrating what they do. If they’re ever portrayed it’s usually as exhausted and mildly incompetent, with the latter usually being a direct consequence of the former. Compared to other public servants, such as the police, firemen, nurses, and even teachers, they’re largely invisible, little thought of, and certainly not worthy of fetishization by popular culture, as opposed to the aforementioned.

Generally, the only time the general public is aware of anything relating to child welfare is when something horrible happens – a child dying in foster care, or a social worker clearing a family for child abuse or neglect only for one or more children dying. At the same time there is a nagging, and not entirely undeserved perception of child welfare workers breaking apart and ruining families – after all, they are paid representatives of sociopolitical structures that have historically oppressed people unluckily born into bad situations not of their making [3].

Throwing services at people is analogous to putting bandages on gaping wounds. The child welfare system is a reactionary multifaceted entity that does not, and indeed cannot address and rectify the deep underlying issues relating to institutionalized racism and income inequality. Until these issues are meaningfully addressed, we should expect little to change. The best we as a society can hope for is the ongoing refinement of what works, and the ceasing of what doesn’t.

Ambivalence about granting the government the authority to break your family apart is healthy skepticism. As the post states, the two competing reasons for a child welfare case to be opened are substantiated allegations of sexual abuse, and substantiated allegations of neglect. But are poor parents truly neglecting their children in the way we typically think of the word? There was a local story in my news, for example, of a mother who was referred to Children & Family Services for “dental neglect.” But dentistry is not included in Alberta’s socialized medicine. If the mom cannot afford an appointment, surely that merits a different response than an allegation of sexual abuse. Yet if the family lives in poverty, the effects of that accumulate, and a worker may deem this “danger to the child.”

Like the post says, this is victimizing people for trying to play the hand they’ve been dealt. The service has its uses, but societal inequality has to be addressed to make it more just.

Read more here.



  1. says

    That’s nice of you, thanks.

    There’s such a large grey area that it’s exceedingly difficult to discern what is actual neglect which justifies removal, versus poverty that doesn’t warrant continued child welfare involvement. In WI, many neglect/poverty cases see children left in the home, but with an assigned social worker coordinating services. It’s hard to say whether or not this helps. On the one hand, there is certainly some benefit to the services – food vouchers, transportation, and help navigating the labyrinthine network of available community resources. On the other, the family has to live with the stress of being under the microscope, knowing that any wrong move can result in removal. One day a single parent may be caught leaving their young children alone while they run out for food, only to come back to an unannounced visit. It’s hard. The workers are so often left with a hard to choice to make, none of which are very good.

  2. says

    Now I read the posts and the articles and I have feelings and opinions and lots of both so you’ll need to bear with me. I’ll try to structure it.
    First of all, yeah, prejudice and bias against marginalised and poor people are a serious problem. They are also a problem for kids from white middle class families because those are very able to hide their abuse, my family being a point in case. When the whole thing finally came crumbling down, my aunt (my father’s brother’s wife) told me she was totally shocked. We’d been her picture perfect family. Sure, they had problems, and they were always scraping by, but look at us.
    I also know from my students (middle and high school for you people) about the shit some of their parents are pulling. But since the kids are fed and groomed and don’t show marks, most of them fly under the radar.

    Second, most of those stories have left me very angry for different reasons. The worst being a system that will spend thousands on foster care but not a few hundred on providing the resources that could keep families intact. Worst of all, that blames the victims of domestic violence and jails them for longer than their abusers. Those make me really angry because the system should protect them and help them.

    Third, I’m angry at most of these oblivious, self-pitying, self-centred parents in the stories. I can sympathise to a degree. Take my children and you rip out my heart. But it also stops when they show very little understanding of what they’ve done and how they’ve harmed their children. They seem to spend precious little time thinking about the children’s welfare and a lot of time about wanting them back, thinking they are entitled to them and their affection no matter what. And they keep lying to themselves and to the world. No, sorry, I will not believe an addict that he was always there for his kids and they could always talk to him and they would take a walk.
    Because yeah, it hits close to home. To this day my mother cannot understand how she hurt us, how she abused us. She didn’t break any bones, right? And she always loved us (and I do not doubt that. But love just isn’t enough), so why are my sister and I so fucking angry and what did we do in therapy all these years anyway?

    Which gets me, four, back to child welfare systems. Holy fuck, terminating a parents legal relationship after less than 2 years is still fucked up. There is no such automatism in Germany. My cousin has a foster child who was taken into custody at about two years. The father’s rights were terminated because he was abusive. The mother, who was very young and without the skills and support she needed at that time to take care of herself and a child still is legally her mother and will always be unless she terminates her rights herself. They visit her regularly, but she will most likely never get that child back, because the kid has been through enough. Not because she can never be a good parent, maybe one day she will be to another child, but because the kid was traumatised by the last time she had to leave everything*. She now has a loving family and being made to leave them because of biological relations would be simply cruel.

    *System works as follows: First she was taken into custody and put into an emergency foster family, families that do short term care and are willing to take in kids at three a.m. First separation. Then CPS decides what to do next. Is this a short term problem, like, a single mum without family has a health problem, or do they need to sue for custody? While they sue for custody the kid goes to an intermediate foster family. Next separation. From there they go back to their families or relatives or to a permanent foster family, like my cousin. Next separation. No toddler can make it through that without trauma.