17 March 2021: “In the reckoning on racism triggered by George Floyd’s killing, decades of complaints from Black families hurt by the child welfare system are bubbling over into public protest,” co-director of the New York University School of Law Family Defense Clinic, Chris Gottlieb writes in Time magazine. “Outraged calls for racial justice have come to a new battleground: child welfare.” It’s a story being played out across the world as indigenous families from the US to Australia, and families of colour, highlight how government authorities still, to this day, too readily remove children from parents who love them.
“Separation of families of color at the border by the Trump Administration was far from the first time that our government has used the taking of children as a terrifying act of persecution. Our current foster care system is an extension of a deeply ingrained history of separating children from their parents based on claims that it would further the children’s “best interests.” Such claims rationalized separating Black families during slavery and Reconstruction and immigrant families at the end of the 19th century, when an estimated 200,000 children, primarily from immigrant Catholic families were put on so-called “orphan trains”, often by Protestant “child savers.” Many of these falsely labeled “orphans”—most of their parents were living—ended up as indentured servants in the Midwest.
“Prejudice also motivated the separation of an extraordinary number of Indigenous American families. Beginning in 1860, tens of thousands of children were forced to leave their communities to be “civilized” at residential facilities. Later, between 25% and 35% of Indigenous American children were taken from their parents and put up for foster care or adoption by white families.
“Today, more than 200,000 children of color are in government custody in our foster system, and the current protesters are largely low-income Black and brown parents who explain that fear-mongering about child abuse has empowered child protective authorities to unfairly target their communities and invade their homes with virtual impunity. A shocking 53% of Black children’s homes are investigated by child welfare officials. That knock at the door is not benign social work. Caseworkers routinely demand entry into homes in the middle of the night without warrants. The interrogations are frightening; the strip searches degrading. Far too often, they end with the trauma of children pulled from their parents’ arms.”