This morning, many of us woke up and read a gut-churning story in the The New York Times about the so-called child welfare system that consistently (and too-frequently) removes the kids of poor black and Hispanic mothers into temporary foster care for petty reasons—damaging everyone’s lives in the process:
“Dozens of lawyers working on these cases say the removals punish parents who have few resources,” the paper reports. “Their clients are predominantly poor black and Hispanic women, they say, and the criminalization of their parenting choices has led some to nickname the practice: Jane Crow.”
Times writers Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver-Greenberg profiled a number of families in which children were placed in temporary foster care for seemingly trivial, or at the very least explicable reasons—leading to the kind of enforced separation that makes me, as a mom, want to scream with pain and frustration. In the wake of some horrible child abuse deaths, it seems, the authorities are cracking down—but in deeply harmful ways.
Take this mom who went into premature labor and had to leave her daughter, very briefly, in order to alert her partner:
“Her due date was still weeks away. Frightened, she called an ambulance. Then she realized her boyfriend, who was at nearby job-placement program and didn’t have a cellphone, would have no way of knowing if she went to the hospital. So she left her phone with her daughter, told her to stay in their apartment, and walked to the boyfriend’s training site, about eight blocks away.
“I’m like, I understand I’m not supposed to leave my daughter, but it’s an emergency,” said the woman during an interview. Her lawyers asked that she not be named, because her case is still open.
Doubled over with contractions, it took her about 40 minutes to get to the site and back. When the couple returned to the apartment, it was swarming with people. Emergency workers had arrived as she’d requested; finding the daughter alone, they had called the police.
By the time the woman was taken to the hospital, her contractions were four minutes apart, medical records reviewed by The Times show. While she was in labor, police officers stood by her bedside. When a nurse explained to her that she was under arrest, she asked, “How?”
Once she had delivered, her feet were shackled and her hands cuffed to her bed, the records show. Her only reprieve: an officer agreed to take off the cuffs while she breast-fed her newborn son, she said. She was discharged from the hospital with a fever, breast pain, severe abdominal pain and instructions to take various medications. Officers took her from the hospital to criminal court, where, after waiting for hours, she was charged with endangering the welfare of her 6-year-old.”
Another example the reporters give is a mom who dashed downstairs to pick up formula being dropped off for her baby, and lost custody.
“One December night in 2011, Colyssa Stapleton ran out of formula for her 7-month-old, Nevaeh, and texted Nevaeh’s father, who lived nearby, asking him to buy some. When he texted back that he was en route and she should come downstairs, Ms. Stapleton dashed to the yard of her Brooklyn apartment building to wait for him.
Unfortunately for Ms. Stapleton, the police were patrolling the area and her aunt was in the yard smoking marijuana. Ms. Stapleton says she was not smoking and the police report noted that only one joint was found and that Ms. Stapleton’s aunt was seen throwing it to the ground. But both women were charged with marijuana possession.
Ms. Stapleton protested that her infant daughter was upstairs by herself. The police officers accused Ms. Stapleton of endangering the welfare of a child.They took Nevaeh to the hospital, where she was found to be “in great condition.” Even so, Children’s Services placed Nevaeh with her father for six months and Ms. Stapleton was forbidden contact.”
These stories are tough to read, but we need to read them.
What strikes me is two things: In all of these cases, the moms in question are making choices that are actually responsible in the moment, given their extremely limited circumstances. They are trying to balance a lack of childcare and extremely pressing needs.
The second thing is: Liberals like to believe that government is the good guy. And often, it is — or at least, it can be. But deep social biases, like a combination of racism and sexism, mean that the forces we want to believe are good (protecting kids!) often do horrible things. Social programs won’t do much good across the board unless we strike hard against systemic racism.
Whatever conclusions you draw from reading the piece, it’s far too easy to dehumanize people in America in 2017.