Dorothy Roberts on ‘Black Families Matter’: Race and Regulation Podcast

In her book, ‘Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World’, Roberts says the U.S. should replace its current family surveillance system with one that improves children’s welfare.

Drawing on her latest book, “Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—And How Abolition Can Build a Safer World,” law and sociology expert Dorothy Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology Raymond Pace and Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, examines the fundamental racism of the child welfare system, which she argues regulates families in ways that disproportionately and negatively affect people of color. She explains why this system of family regulation should be dismantled and replaced with one that better protects children.

To Roberts, the U.S. child welfare system is a multi-billion dollar apparatus designed to regulate and police families, not to protect children.

In her book, “Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families—and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World”, Roberts argues that the child welfare system relies on “terrorizing families” by taking away children or weaponizing them with the threat of removal.

“Given the child welfare system’s foundational logic centered on investigating, supervising, and disrupting politically marginalized families, the system has absorbed efforts to mitigate its abuses and continued to operate as a system of family regulation,” she says.

Roberts first identified the flaws with the child protective services system when she was working on her 1997 book, “Killing the Black Body”.

The University of Pennsylvania Law Review recently renamed its annual Public Interest Essay Competition to Dorothy E. Roberts Public Interest Essay Competition in honor of Roberts.

Listen to the podcast on BuzzSprout.

Episode highlights:

7:41: I had been researching the charges brought against hundreds of Black women across the country for using crack cocaine while pregnant and investigating how racism and the long-standing devaluation of Black mothers turned a public health issue into a crime.

7:59: Twenty years later, Black and Native communities are still targeted for child welfare investigations. Although the racial disparities in foster care are less glaring than they were in the 1990s, Black and Native children remain overrepresented in foster care populations. More telling are recent data indicating children’s chances of landing in foster care at some point while growing up—in other words, not just one point in time, but their chances over their entire childhoods. According to a 2014 study, about 15 percent of Native children and 12 percent of Black children can expect to enter foster care before their 18th birthday. That’s an extremely high rate of the state taking children away from their homes and putting them in substitute care, in state custody. The rate for white children, about one in 20, is also remarkably high even though it’s lower. It’s alarming that so many white children also are taken from their homes.

Listen to the podcast at the Penn Program on Regulation.