The Current Reality
More than 21,000 children are removed from their families in Los Angeles County by DCFS each year. The vast majority of cases do not involve allegations of actual child abuse but instead are a result of “neglect,” a vague term that often is a direct result of poverty. Children are routinely removed from their families for parents being a survivor of domestic violence, being unable to afford childcare, and being unable to afford mental health treatment. After being removed from the families they have known their entire lives, children are then placed in foster care with a stranger and often have no idea if, or when, they will return home to their parents.
It is time for the United States to change the child welfare system to prioritize keeping families together instead of ripping families apart and putting children in the abusive foster care system. Though states have the primary role in making child welfare policy, Congress can and should provide crucial support and resources to fix the system.
The current child welfare system is racist. The statistics are clear: Black, Latine, and Native American children are removed from their families at much higher rates than white and Asian children. In Los Angeles County, only 7% of children in Los Angeles County are Black, yet 24% of children removed from their families by DCFS were Black. Further, two-thirds of all children removed from their homes in Los Angeles in 2020 were Latino. Even worse, state and local child protection agencies have immense power and often operate under the cover of confidentiality. States and local governments lack the resources to have sufficient oversight of these agencies and to hold them accountable for their failure to protect children without violating Constitutional rights.
What Needs To Be Done
Keep Families Together:
- Repeal and replace the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA), originally passed in 1997, which shifted the government’s priorities from preserving families to destroying families.
- Increase federal funding for preventative services that support families at the initial stages of a child welfare investigation and to avoid unnecessary court cases.
- Require state child protection agencies to prioritize the placement of children with relatives and non-related extended family members instead of in foster care.
- Pass the 21st Century Children and Families Act, sponsored by California Representative Karen Bass, that removes the federal mandate to terminate parental rights within two years, regardless of the parent’s efforts to reunify.
- Remove the financial incentives that prioritize the adoption of children from the child welfare system instead of reunification with biological parents.
- Heighten the burden of proof needed for a court to remove a child from parental custody and to terminate parental rights.
- Commission federal studies to evaluate the emotional harm to children from being removed from their families and the effectiveness of removal policies.
Prioritize Community-Based Services:
- Provide direct funding to expand community-based parenting and rehabilitation programs, childcare, housing and public health.
- Require that federal funding to state child protection agencies be conditioned on compliance with evidence-based practices.
- Provide additional federal funds for state Head Start programs, which provides preschool children with early childhood education, nutrition and health services.
- Stop providing federal funding for foster care group homes, where child abuse is rampant.
- Ensure that any foster youth aging out of the foster care system has the resources they need to be independent and successful adult.
Equity in the Child Welfare System:
- Require state child protection agencies to train social workers on implicit bias and racism in the child welfare system.
- Defend the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to stop the forcible removal of Native American children from their families.
- Pass the John Lewis Every Child Deserves a Family Act (H.R.3488) to prevent discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status in the foster care system.
- Establish a unit within the Department of Justice Civil Rights division to prosecute state agencies that violate parents’ and children’s rights.
What This Will Do For Us
Our government has a responsibility to ensure that our nation’s children grow up in an environment free from abuse and neglect. Most children do not want to go into the foster care system. Yet, child protection agencies routinely force them into foster homes while trampling on parents’ constitutional rights. Instead of treating families in poverty facing difficult personal issues as criminals, we need to support them by providing a floor to stand on.
Help us protect our families and join the movement.