NPO publishes blog articles to inform and to stimulate conversation about issues of importance to NPO's mission.  All blog articles express the opinions of the authors as individuals and do not necessarily reflect the views of National Parents Organization, its Board of Directors, or its executives.  

June 7, 2018 By Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

Here’s Naomi Schaefer Riley’s response to the knee-jerk claims by Slate’s Rachelle Hampton that CPS agencies are racist (American Enterprise Institute, 6/4/18).

Interestingly, she quotes at length a Los Angeles County child welfare worker, Sharonda Wade, a black woman, who has her own take on the idea of racism in the system. According to her, because blacks have so often had bad experiences with a variety of state agencies, they’re not exactly open to friendly interaction with CPS. And, since CPS caseworkers are disproportionately black, a level of black-on-black racial animosity can crop up.

Indeed, Wade tells me that a black person working for child protective services (CPS) may actually make the situation worse from the perspective of black families. “Some people—even black people—feel like a black social worker won’t do a good enough job, that they’re not as educated, not as professional.” Even worse, “They see me as being a traitor.” During the four years she was an emergency response worker, clients would call her supervisor to complain. “They wanted a white social worker.” Others attacked her for working for CPS at all. “Some of the moms would be screaming: ‘How dare you work for CPS? You’re going to get your ass whupped for working for the man.’”

Plus, it’s often black neighbors/acquaintances/family members who call CPS to investigate black parents.

Moreover, CPS workers are often responding to complaints made by people of color who live and work in the same neighborhoods as these minority families, such as mandated reporters like teachers and doctors. In New York, for instance, 40 percent of public school teachers are nonwhite. And in Washington, D.C., almost half of all teachers are nonwhite. It is not nosy racist white ladies who are interfering in the lives of these black families. More often than not it is black people concerned about the welfare of black children.

Riley then gets to the nut of the matter that I touched on yesterday. The question of race, particularly as it concerns children’s welfare, is often a proxy for other issues, like poverty.

Wilson also worries that it is harder to place black children with extended family members because of the many other issues that affect these family members. He tells me: “If you don’t address poverty, unemployment, and lack of stable housing, then when you go to look for a suitable caretaker, one of those issues could impede that child to be placed there.”

This gets to the heart of the problem with the claim that the child welfare system is racist: It fails to acknowledge that certain social factors are correlated with child abuse and neglect—and those factors are more likely to be present in minority communities.

Exactly. Riley goes on to mention, as I did, poverty and single-parent families as (a) being more often found in black communities and (b) contributing to child abuse and neglect.

Amazingly, advocates for the “CPS is racist” position attempt to recruit to their cause the fact that so many reports of suspected abuse or neglect turn out to be meritless.

Critics of the system often cite the fact that of the three million reports of abuse or neglect made each year, only about a third are “substantiated.” 

Actually, the number of substantiated cases is more like one-fifth. But nowhere do those critics offer evidence that black parents are disproportionately likely to be (a) reported or (b) exonerated. Nor do they address the question that if an allegation is made, investigated and found to be without substance, isn’t that some evidence that the system is working as it’s supposed to?

I’ve argued long and hard that the system’s encouragement for over-reporting is one of its biggest flaws, taking time and resources away from child welfare agencies that are strapped for manpower anyway.

The proverbial bottom line is that racial disparities in parents investigated, children taken by CPS, children placed in foster care, etc. don’t necessarily mean the system is racist, but only that other factors that tend to predominate in the black community also tend to produce child abuse and neglect. It’s a fact that true believers like Rachelle Hampton will never admit because it conflicts with their chosen narrative.

Meanwhile, although Riley’s article is far better, far more informative and nuanced than is Hampton’s, alas, it doesn’t merit its headline, “No, the child welfare system isn’t racist.” On the whole, it probably isn’t, but there’ simply nothing definitive on which we can draw such a conclusion. My guess is that there are probably individual caseworkers who do treat black parents more harshly than white ones. But I very much doubt that the system is, generally speaking, racist.

Neither writer proved her case because there’s not sufficient information on which to base a firm

Neither writer proved her case because there’s not sufficient information on which to base a firm conclusion. For the time being though, the burden of proof must be on the Rachelle Hamptons of the world to prove that the child welfare system is racist. She neither got close to doing so nor in fact gave it much of a try. For her, a single anecdote and a single factoid add up to a system that employees tens of thousands of people bringing a racist’s animus to its work. That may be enough for Hampton and the social justice warriors. The rest of us demand more.

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