Slate Wrong to Call CPS Racist

June 6, 2018 by Robert Franklin, Member, National Board of Directors, National Parents Organization

I’m responding to this article today (Slate, 4/3/18). I’ll discuss Naomi Schaefer Riley’s rebuttal on the American Enterprise Institute’s website tomorrow.

The Slate piece would be just silly if it didn’t deal with such an important issue. Put simply, even if you agree with its thesis – that the child welfare system in the United States is racist – you have to admit that shoddy work like Rachelle Hampton’s does your cause only harm. That thesis, that bald assertion is about all there is to Hampton’s article. In support, she offers nothing but a single anecdote and a single factoid. Beyond that, her article is simply the ideology of the social justice warriors – that all outcomes that differ by race are per se indications of racism.

Hampton considers the case of Sarah and Jennifer Hart that was much in the news two months ago. They’re the white couple who adopted six black children out of foster care, were investigated for child abuse and neglect and died in infamy when they, apparently, drove their car, holding themselves and their children, off a 100-foot cliff.

Sarah Hart had already pleaded guilty to domestic assault in 2011, when a teacher discovered bruises across their then-6-year-old daughter’s stomach and back. For admitting to letting “her anger get out of control,” Hart was given a 90-day suspended jail sentence and a year of probation. The family was then allowed to move from Minnesota to Oregon with their six children, all black, and given no oversight. Before eventually relocating to rural Washington state, they started home-schooling their children without filing the proper notices to state agenciesAccording to a former neighbor, the six kids rarely went outside, even in nice weather. At least three of them had been identified as “potential victims of alleged abuse or neglect” by CPS. And now, the entire family is dead in a tragedy that officials are saying “may have been” intentional.

Hampton concludes from the fact that the couple had faced several allegations of child abuse and/or neglect, that the only reason they maintained custody of their kids was because they were white.

[T]he Hart’s story is a tragic case study in racial disparity. The ways in which Sarah and Jennifer managed to continually evade the notice (or action) of officials is a luxury that is by and large only provided to white parents.

Citation? None. Any factual support at all? No. By any stretch of the imagination, it’s an astonishing allegation to make. It’s all the more so given Hampton’s refusal to provide even a scintilla of evidence for her position.

Is it possible that she’s unaware of the countless cases we’ve seen and continue to see of black parents investigated time and again by CPS only to have something tragic happen to their kids? What about the white parents harassed by CPS for things as minor as letting the children walk unsupervised to a nearby park or play at the end of a cul-de-sac with their mother watching from her front porch?

I long ago stopped writing about almost all such cases simply because they’re so numerous. I could write a post a day about the individual failures of this or that caseworker in this or that state involving this or that set of facts. But I don’t because, as ever, it’s the big picture that matters. It’s the system of child welfare, including its underfunding, undertraining, secrecy, us-versus-them mindset, federal largess, anti-dad bias, etc. that leads to caseworkers overreaching in one case and failing to intervene in another. Hampton’s anecdotes add nothing to the debate.

The closest she gets to evidence comes here:

According to the Los Angeles Times, black children enter the foster care system at a rate five times higher than their white counterparts “and linger there, without being returned to their parents or being adopted, two months longer than white children.” 

But even a true believer like Hampton can’t seriously pretend that, due to that disparity, we can conclude that the child welfare system is racist. There are simply far too many factors that enter into the question of whether to take children into care to put down one disparity to a single cause. I’ve written many times about the difficulty caseworkers face in discerning the difference between parental poverty and parental neglect of kids. The one can look very, very much like the other and, when a caseworker is overloaded, as most of them are, making the right call can be hard. The poverty rate for black Americans (22%) is about 2.4 times what it is for while Americans (9%). That alone could explain why black kids are more likely to be taken from their parents.

But Hampton wouldn’t dream of mentioning the fact.

What about single parenthood? Unquestionably, single parents are more likely than married or partnered ones to abuse or neglect their kids. Some 72% of black children are born to a single mother. That’s also 2.4 times the rate for white kids. Does that play a role in how many black vs. how many white children are taken into care? Of course it does.

But again, Hampton is silent on that oh-so-pertinent fact.

Hers is a reprise of another familiar notion that holds that the use of deadly force by police is done in a racist manner. But carefully done studies, such as one by the National Bureau of Economic Research found no such racism. What it found was that the use of deadly force was in proportion to the likelihood of being involved in crime. In other words, there was a disproportionate number of black suspects killed by police because there was a disproportionate number of black suspects.

And then there’s the fact that, implicitly, Hampton is arguing for greater and greater interference in family life by state agencies. Is she sure that’s really what she wants? Notice that she’s not saying black families should be freer from CPS involvement, but that white families should be less so. Ms. Hampton, there are many, many reasons why that’s a very bad idea.

I’ll say more about this tomorrow, but for now will only note that the matter of child welfare authorities taking – or not taking – children from families is extremely complex. Efforts like Hampton’s are a poor substitute for reasoned, factual discourse.

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