- Nina Bernstein, The Lost Children of Wilder: The Epic Struggle to Change Foster Care (Pantheon: 2001).
- Andrea Elliott, Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope In An American City (Random House: 2021).
- Tina Lee, Catching a Case: Inequality and Fear in New York City’s Child Welfare System (Rutgers University Press: 2016).
- Dorothy Roberts, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Civitas Books: 2002).
- Dorothy Roberts, Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families–and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World (Basic Books: 2022)
- Mary Callahan, Memoirs of a Baby Stealer: Lessons I’ve Learned as a Foster Mother (Pinewoods Press: 2003).
- Mical Raz, Abusive Policies: How the American Child Welfare System Lost its Way (University of North Carolina Press, 2020)
- Jessamine Chan, The School for Good Mothers (Simon & Schuster, 2022). Yes, this one’s a novel about a dystopian near future – but it’s understanding of the mentality behind family policing is as good as the finest journalism.
- Virginia Eubanks, Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (St. Martin’s Press, 2018.) This one is a non-fiction book with a chapter on family policing’s dystopian present.
- Malcolm Bush, Families in Distress: Public, Private and Civic Responses (University of California Press, 1988).
- Martin Guggenheim, What’s Wrong with Children’s Rights (Harvard University Press, 2005)
- Richard Wexler, Wounded Innocents: The Real Victims of the War Against Child Abuse (Prometheus Books: 1990).
- Leroy Pelton, For Reasons of Poverty: A Critical Analysis of the Public Child Welfare System in the United States (Praeger: 1989).
- Lizbeth B. Schorr, Within Our Reach: Breaking the Cycle of Disadvantage (Anchor Press/Doubleday: 1988).
- Lizbeth B. Schorr, Common Purpose: Strengthening Families and Neighborhoods to Rebuild America (Anchor Press/Doubleday: 1997).
NEWSPAPER, MAGAZINE, BROADCAST AND ONLINE STORIES AND SERIES:
Where no link is available, the story usually is available from NCCPR.
- The headline on this New York Times story sums up perfectly the state of American “child welfare:” “Foster Care as Punishment: The New Reality of ‘Jane Crow'”
- So does this headline on a brilliant story from USA Today: “‘The problem is poverty’ Florida removing more kids of poor families over alleged ‘neglect'”
- For an x-ray of family policing systems’ souls, revealing it in all their ugliness and cruelty, see: this story from Mother Jones: Do We Need to Abolish Child Protective Services: Inside one parent’s five-year battle with the “family destruction system” and this two-part story from Next City in Philadelphia: “The Fight to Keep Families Together in Child Welfare.”
- NBC News and ProPublica show how the harm to children begins at the very start of the process: Mandatory reporting laws: “Mandatory reporting was supposed to stop severe child abuse. It punishes poor families instead.”
- In the second part of their series, ProPublica and NBC News document the harm done to children by the way the system tramples on their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure: “Police Need Warrants to Search Homes. Child Welfare Agents Almost Never Get One.“
- And in part three they examine the racism that permeates family policing systems with a close look at one of the places where that problem is worst: For Black Families in Phoenix, Child Welfare Investigations Are a Constant Threat
- The New Republic presents a finely-nuanced examination of the confusion of poverty with neglect: “The Crime of Parenting While Poor.”
- The poverty is worsened when family policing agencies – a more accurate term than “child welfare” agencies force parents to pay part of the cost of foster care in order to get their children back. The agencies call it “child support.” The proper term is “ransom.” NPR reports on the enormous harm this does to children.
- Poor families are robbed to pay for foster care – and child abuse investigations – in other ways as well. ProPublica examines how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) became a child welfare slush fund.
- Also from NPR, a searing three-part series on what child protective services in South Dakota has done to the state’s Native American children.
- The PBS Newshour has an in-depth finely-nuanced look at the harm done by the so-called Adoption and Safe Families Act. (For more about ASFA, check out our ASFA resource page.)
- When reporters for the Kansas City Star wanted to know what happens to former foster children, they began in the most logical place: Jails. The link to this part of their six-part series is called “Former foster kids blame a system they say took them from their homes for being poor.”
- The Nation asks: “Has Child Protective Services Gone Too Far” and answers with a resounding yes.
- A New York Times op-ed column from a family defender: Live in a Poor Neighborhood? Better Be a Perfect Parent.
- And from the New York Daily News: An essay from a parent who allegedly wasn’t perfect: My kids at risk, because of pot.
- Parenting Under Scrutiny. From a New York Times blog, a remarkable essay on who really gets caught in the child protective services net, and why.
- The New York Times examines the progress made in Florida by reforming child welfare to emphasize family preservation. (Sadly, there has been a lot of backsliding since this story was published.)
- In 2011, The New York Times explored reefer madness at New York City’s child welfare agency – where families are traumatized and children sometimes taken away just because the parents possess small amounts of marijuana. Eleven years later, despite legalization, Gothamist reports: It’s still happening.
- Did the Philadelphia Inquirer’s coverage of child welfare in that city start a foster-care panic? Philadelphia’s alternative weekly, Citypaper, examines the issue in this cover story.
- In contrast, in 2010, the competing Philadelphia Daily News (now incorporated into the Inquirer) showed the value of a two-newspaper town, repeatedly putting cases of wrongful removal on the front page.
- January 21: Avalanche of anguish
- February 22: Is home where the heart is?
- March 30: Why did DHS take away the kids?
- And coverage in the Inquirer is much improved, as can be seen here: Missing kids, illicit activity: Staff warn of chaos at Philly DHS office that houses stranded kids.
- We’ve all read “horror stories” about child maltreatment. But in a story by the reporter who would go on to expose the Flint water crisis, Detroit’s alternative weekly Metro Times documents how the real horror is what typical agencies do in typical cases.
- After a child died in foster care in Springfield, Missouri, the Springfield News-Leader began looking for solutions. The newspaper produced an extensive package of news stories and commentary about the successful transformation of child welfare in Alabama. Stories include: “Work to keep families together,” “Alabama workers: To get it right, work from ground up,” and “Panel of everyday people looks for trends, keeps watch on work.” (Sixteen years after writing these stories, the reporter co-authored the Kansas City Star stories noted above.)
- The New York Times also examined the Alabama reforms in this excellent story.
- The Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program has largely escaped critical media scrutiny. A rare and important exception, again from Youth Today is An Evaluation of Volunteers Courts Controversy from the July/August 2004 issue. And NCCPR is pleased to make available the study itself now that it seems to have been removed from CASA’s own website. (Subsequent research confirmed this study’s findings.)
- The author of the CASA story, former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Barbara White Stack, was given rare access to court hearings in child abuse and neglect cases that normally are closed to press and public. The result was several important stories from Allegheny County, Pa., including Family values: Court, CYF show preference for reuniting families over foster care (November 17, 2002) and Caseworkers can Make or Break a Family (October 13, 2002)
- Things were very different in neighboring Beaver County, Pa. See Barbara White Stack, When the Bough Breaks, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Dec. 12 – 15, 1999.
- Another series by Stack, Open Justice, documented the benefits of opening court hearings in cases of alleged child maltreatment all over the country.
- Some of the finest journalism ever done on child welfare is by Nina Bernstein, formerly of The New York Times. Stories include: Daily Choice Turned Deadly: Children Left on Their Own, October 19, 2003, When the Foster Care System Forgets Fathers, May 4, 2000, Family Needs Far Exceed The Official Poverty Line, September 13, 2000.
- An outstanding examination of a typical “in-between” case is a three-part Boston Globe series by Patricia Wen in 2003. Barbara’s Story was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize.
- The horrors, and the waste, of “residential treatment” are exposed in this superb cover story from Washington D.C.’s alternative weekly CityPaper.
- In 2002, The Westchester County, N.Y. Journal News did three excellent multi-part series about problems at the county’s “Residential Treatment Centers.” The series looked not only at specific incidents but also at whether RTCs really are needed, and at better alternatives. This excellent series no longer is available on the Journal News website. Some of the articles are available from NCCPR.
- The people who run RTCs and similar institutions almost always insist that every child in them really needs to be there and there are no alternatives. An institution that proves those claims are wrong is the subject of a story in Youth Today. See The Gift of Wrapping in the June, 2003 issue.
- For those concerned about the hype over drug use and child welfare, a reality check can be found in the excellent trade journal, Youth Today in a story called The Meth Epidemic: Hype vs. Reality (October, 2005). See also two stories from the website stats.org, The Media’s Meth Mania and The Media Go Into “Crack Baby” Mode Over Meth. And The New York Times reminded us of the harm done when journalists get it wrong when it reexamined the myth of the “crack baby” in this excellent editorial.
- One of the finest examples of a story documenting the price of foster-car panic is D.C. Social Workers Remove More Kids by Petula Dvorak of The Washington Post, June 3, 2008. Fortunately, in the years since, D.C. reversed course.
- Another superb example, one which included a remarkably candid assessment of the role media played in making the panic worse, is from the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 2004. The headline says it all: Child welfare gone haywire.
- Julie Jargon, “Baby Formula: Take one Mexican father, one drug-addicted mother, and a pair of foster parents. Take away one baby.” Westword, Denver, Colorado, September 7, 2000. Also, see the follow-up story.
- Dara Colwell, “Adorable and Adoptable: a spate of new laws and financial incentives has made it easier (and more profitable) for Child Protective Services to take ostensibly abused kids away from their parents. But has the new system for fast-tracking adoptions gone too far, too fast?” Metro, San Jose, California, July 13, 2000.
- In 1998, Tracy Weber exposed the misuse and overuse of psychiatric medication on California foster children, “Caretakers Routinely Drug Foster Children,” and “Prescription for Tragedy,” Los Angeles Times, May 17, 1998.
- Sixteen years later, Karen de Sa returned to the topic for the San Jose Mercury News. You can get a sense of how much had changed from the title of her series: Drugging Our Kids.
- William Heffernan and Stewart Ain, “Big Money, Little Victims” (Title of first story in untitled six-part series on New York City foster care system) New York Daily News, May 13-18 1975. Though this series is nearly 50 years old, it was only in 2007 that the New York City child welfare agency began to address the issues of financial incentives which it highlights.
- Rise, a magazine written by families caught up in child welfare systems, is an outstanding resource.
- Another great resource is the new journal Family Integrity and Justice Quarterly.
- A truly-extraordinary report, that reveals the ugliness of a state child welfare agency was issued by the Center for the Study of Social Policy in 2009. The long, academic title notwithstanding the report, about racial bias, and much more, in child welfare in Michigan reads more like good investigative reporting than just another study. The Michigan report was one of a series of similar studies across the country. In 2022, two of the researchers wrote about findings common to all of them.
- Similar to the Michigan report, a report by the Citizens Review Board for child protective services in Washington DC combines data with compelling case examples to document findings that hundreds of children have been wrongfully taken from their families. But it no longer appears to be available online.
- Two issues of the Columbia Journal of Race and Law (Vol. 11 No. 4 and Vol. 12, No. 1) are, in effect, an encyclopedia of family policing and how it hurts children. They collect papers from the Journal’s Strengthened Bonds symposium, tied to the release of Prof. Dorothy Roberts’ book, Torn Apart, noted in the Books section above.
- Much earlier, the Fall, 2009 issue of the Michigan Child Welfare Law Journal created an outstanding resource for anyone interested in how child welfare really works. The issue focuses on the urgent need for high-quality legal representation for families caught up in child welfare systems. See especially the article by one such parent, Nancy Colon, and the article by Tracy Green, Managing Attorney for the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy.
- The National CASA Association commissioned a study that was supposed to tell the world how wonderful the Court-Appointed Special Advocates program is. But it didn’t work out that way. National CASA appears to have removed the report from its website. We’re pleased to make it available here. Since then, other studies have confirmed the dismal findings. Links to those studies and further discussion are available here.
- At the suggestion of NCCPR, the New Jersey Office of Child Advocate examined Families Under Supervision of the New Jersey family policing agency, and found families who could have safely remained together had the agency provided the right kinds of help.
- Office of the New York City Public Advocate, Justice Denied: The Crisis in Legal Representation of Birth Parents in Child Welfare Proceedings. May 12, 2000.
- Martin Guggenheim, “The Effects of Recent Trends to Accelerate the Termination of Parental Rights of Children in Foster Care — An Empirical Analysis in Two States,” Family Law Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 1, Spring 1995.
- The 1991-92 San Diego County Grand Jury spent a year investigating that county’s child protective system with extraordinary thoroughness. The portrait painted by their reports is frightening. Though they focused on only one county, the system in San Diego is typical of the operations of child protective services throughout the United States. Reports include: Report No.2, Families in Crisis, Feb. 6, 1992; Report No.6, The Case of Alicia W., June 23, 1992 ; Report No.7, The Crisis in Foster Care, June 29, 1992; Report No.8, Child Sexual Abuse, Assault, and Molest Issues, June 29, 1992; and Families in Crisis — Supplement, June 29, 1992. This last report documents what the Grand Jury viewed as a remarkable willingness by authorities in San Diego to respond to the Grand Jury’s findings and try to change the system.
- Karen Benker and James Rempel, Inexcusable Harm: The Effect of Institutionalization on Young Foster Children in New York City (May, 1989). Public Interest Health Consortium for New York City. This report is out of print, but available through the coalition.
The National Center for Housing and Child Welfare provides information on one of the key reasons children are needlessly taken from their families: lack of affordable housing.
Other organizations with outstanding information about family policing include: