Journal of Law and Policy


Jane Brennan


For a brief moment during the recent September democratic presidential debate, the ugly underbelly of the child welfare system unexpectedly took center stage. When asked about what responsibility Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery, the former vice president responded by propagating a myth that Black parents do not know how to parent. Former Vice President Joe Biden said “[w]e bring social workers into homes and parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help. They don’t—they don’t know quite what to do.” What exactly is it that these Black parents do not know to do? More importantly, why is this a justification for interference with a family? This statement and sentiment highlights the ways in which the child welfare system was designed, and the racist assumptions and myths that allow it to continue operating. Dorothy Roberts, a law professor who has studied foster care systems in the United States and its effects on Black family notes, “[i]f you go into dependency court in Chicago, New York, or Los Angeles without any preconceptions, you might conclude that the child welfare system is designed to monitor, regulate and punish Black mothers.” Given the widespread inequities built into state organized child welfare systems, revising existing federal law is the most efficient, short-term solution to ensure that children are not unnecessarily removed from their families.