Opinion

COVID-19 Surfaces Child Welfare’s Ugly Biases About Race, Class

fizkes/Shutterstock

.

“The Coronavirus Could Cause a Child Abuse Epidemic
—Headline on opinion column, New York Times

“We must not allow a public health pandemic to become an abuse pandemic.”
—Globe & Mail columnist in Toronto

“We cannot let a health pandemic become a child abuse pandemic!”
—Sheriff in Texas on Twitter

 “I’ve read some articles where it said this a coronavirus pandemic. I also read it could become a child abuse pandemic.”
—Georgia director of a child advocacy center

mandatory reporting: Richard Wexler (headshot), executive director of National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, smiling balding man with white-gray hair in black top.

Richard Wexler

Well, yes. By now, just about everyone must have read some version of the hype and hysteria around the fact that, thanks to COVID-19, fewer mostly white, middle-class “eyes” will be on children who are overwhelmingly poor and disproportionately nonwhite.

 What this kind of hysteria really shows us is the extent to which racial and class biases permeate child welfare and our perceptions of the families caught up in the child welfare system. That claims of a “pandemic” of abuse are amplified in news coverage with no thought to what people making those claims are really saying should give us pause, too.

 By racism I don’t mean the wear-a-sheet-and-burn-a-cross variety. I mean the kind that’s more subtle, and that all of us, whatever our own race, need to guard against.

 Because the underlying message in all those warnings about a “pandemic of child abuse” is: “As soon as people like ‘US’ take our eyes off people like ‘THEM’ — they will unleash their savagery against children on a massive scale.”

 Or as a California district attorney put it: “For the most vulnerable people in our community ‘shelter-in-place’ is the same as putting them in a cage with a violent gorilla,”

 THE MOLEHILL OF TRUTH

As is so often the case, underneath the mountain of hype is a molehill of truth. Stress sometimes prompts adults to fly off the handle and take it out on the children. Of course the coronavirus pandemic is increasing stress. And yes, with schools closed fewer teachers will notice the extremely rare cases in which a child really is abused as a result. (This also happens every summer, so far without unleashing an annual pandemic of child abuse.)

 So it is reasonable to express concern about this. It also is reasonable to tell families under stress where they can call for help, and to ask neighbors to watch out for each other by, perhaps, making a video call to a friend to distract their children for a while, or dropping off food and other necessities on that neighbor’s doorstep.

 What is unreasonable, dangerous and yes, biased both in terms of race and class, are dire warnings that as soon as the mostly white, middle-class professionals aren’t looking, those uncivilized poor people who are disproportionately people of color will rise up and viciously assault their children on the scale of a pandemic. When these warnings are accompanied by calls to report anyone and everyone to child abuse hotlines for anything and everything, they make everyone less safe — and not just in the usual ways.

 Even in the best of times, 91% of calls to child abuse hotlines either are screened out or found to be false after investigation. Another 6% involve “neglect,” which often means the family is poor. Looking only at cases that are investigated, 83% are false reports. (And please, child savers of America, spare us the canard about how “they’re not false, we just couldn’t prove it!” That was discredited decades ago when the only study I know of to second-guess caseworker decisions found they were far more likely to wrongly “substantiate” an allegation than to wrongly label it “unfounded.”)

 By using COVID-19 as an excuse to encourage even more false reports, we don’t just traumatize the children who are needlessly investigated and steal workers’ time from finding children in real danger. Now, by needlessly forcing caseworkers to go through home after home opening refrigerators and cupboards and questioning everyone, we put both the families and the caseworkers at greater risk of contracting COVID-19. And by calling it a pandemic and analogizing impoverished parents to violent gorillas, we encourage our own worst instincts about race and class.

 No, I’m not going to conclude with some sort of reference to a pandemic of racism. That’s the wrong analogy. Pandemics sweep over us and do enormous harm but eventually they end. The racial and class biases in child welfare, and everywhere else, are more like cancer. It’s always with us, often incurable and very difficult to treat. But the odds improve when you catch it early.

 Richard Wexler is executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform.

Comments

Youth Today is the only independent, internationally distributed digital media publication that is read by thousands of professionals in the youth service field.

Youth Today adheres to high-quality journalistic standards, providing readers with professional news coverage dedicated to examining a wide spectrum of complex issues in the youth services industry from legislation to community-based youth work.

EDITORIAL INDEPENDENCE

Our organization retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of all revenue.

DONORS & DONOR TRANSPARENCY

We are committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Donors may be quoted, mentioned or featured in our stories. Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions…(read more)

Youth Today's ISSN: 10896724
Our XML website site map:
https://youthtoday.org/sitemap.xml

Recent Comments

Archives

Categories

Logo Grant professional Association Business Alliance
LOGO Institute for Nonprofit News 3 turquoise boxes stacked in "J" shape

Copyright © 2019 Youth Today and MVP Themes --- Published by Center for Sustainable Journalism,
1200 Chastain Rd, MD 00310, Chastain Pointe Bldg 300, Suite 310, Kennesaw, GA 30144-5591

To Top
[os-widget path="/youthtoday/able-youth-today-newsletter-survey"]
<script type="text/javascript"> (function(d,s,id,u){ if (d.getElementById(id)) return; var js, sjs = d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0], t = Math.floor(new Date().getTime() / 1000000); js=d.createElement(s); js.id=id; js.async=1; js.src=u+'?'+t; sjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js, sjs); }(document, 'script', 'os-widget-jssdk', 'https://www.opinionstage.com/assets/loader.js')); </script><div class="os_widget" data-path="/youthtoday/able-youth-today-newsletter-survey" id="os-widget-512970"></div>