Through the lens of the US Child Welfare System: Disproportionate treatment of Black children Part 1

First, looking from a historical view of Black families in the early days of the child welfare system showed signs of prejudice and racial processes and procedures. In 1973, Wilder v. Sugarman was brought by the NY Civil Liberties Union, which sues NY City for using racial discrimination in their child welfare system processes and procedures. [i] Shirley A. Wilder, a Black 12-year-old, was rejected services from city-funded Roman Catholic or Jewish foster-care agencies, which resulted in Shirley receiving lower-quality care.[ii] The suit, later taken over by American Civil Liberties Union, was finally settled in 1986.[iii] The settlement did require NY city to use a more fair and equal process for their child welfare system, but from Shirley’s view, she was around 24 years old by this time.[iv] That time-lapse brought an oppressive systemic issue to Shirley’s involvement with the child welfare system. Due to Shirley being a Black child, she was forced to receive lower-quality care, and this oppression more than likely affected many other Black children.

Additionally, in 1974 the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) was passed to deal with the national problem of child abuse.[v] The goal of CAPTA is to tackle reports of child abuse by providing funds and guidance to states, public agencies, and nonprofit organizations.[vi] CAPTA, which has been amended several times, was put in place to rectify child abuse cases.[vii] Yet, the proportion of children in need of abusive situations is small, and there lacks sufficient evidence that the services provided through CAPTA have reduced abusive incidents.[viii]

From the time of passing CAPTA, the child welfare program’s representation of Black children started increasing. With this increase, the process of screening, investigating, and assessing Black families who had a report of child abuse and/or neglect became more likely to be assigned for investigation. In the state of Texas, a study found that even when a Black family has a lower risk score than Whites, Blacks were more likely to have their case acted upon, either by some type of service provision or possibly having the child taken away from the parents. This sample shows that the individuals who work the cases have dissimilar risk approaches based on a family’s racial makeup. [ix] With the federal statute of CAPTA being enacted, there was a trickle-down effect to ensure that this legislation is making a broad change in abuse cases. Yet, statistics and studies show that the broad change with the passage of CAPTA targets Black families. Black families are seen through the media and others implicit/explicit bias as the families that are more than likely abusing their children at higher rates than other racial families. This has put a detrimental burden on Black families to not only do their best to not be reported to not experience such scorn treatment from a broken CPS system, but also it creates an oppressive feeling that no matter how hard a Black mother and/or father might try to avoid being reported abuse and neglect there is a still a strong possibility a small slip up can result in a broken family.


[i] Wilder v. Sugarman, 385 F. Supp. 1013 (U.S. D. N.Y. 1974).

[ii] Id.

[iii] Wilder v. Bernstein, 645 F. Supp. 1292 (U.S. D. N.Y. 1986).

[iv] Id.

[v] Lindsey Duncan, The Welfare of Children, 22 W. Mich. Univ. The J. of Socio. & Socio. Welfare 148 (1955).

[vi] Id.

[vii] Id.

[viii] Id.

[ix] Supra at note 2 (May 15, 2021, 5:05 PM).

Officers on School Campuses Negative Impacts

The ability to teach a child something carries excellent weight on how they gain knowledge to understand the lessons learned in that taught experience. “Reducing recidivism should be the goal of public safety, not more punishment,” as stated by Alycia Castillo, aligns with the lessons youth are taught. Black children are punished at a much higher rate than their white counterparts for crimes. The punishments served are more severe, as “[c]hildren of color, particularly Black children, are overrepresented in arrests and other police contact.” As these Black children are taught that being arrested is the result of punishment, they then accept arrest as a punishment. Many of these cases do not deserve punishment, but it does not need to be as severe as an arrest if needed. There should be better ways of rehabilitating all but predominantly Black and Brown children rather than punishing them severely for their unfortunate run-ins with the law.

The punishment issues can arise with the presence of police on school campuses. “Arrests increase the likelihood that students will drop out of school.” This is a byproduct of punishment that Black and Brown children face from police in schools. Many students may give up on their studies if facing run-ins with the law is part of it. Some may see that no matter if their inside or outside the school, they will still be a run-in with the law. This unfortunate event is an occurrence that happens too often in Black and Brown communities. “When youth come into contact with police, including through arrests, they miss classroom learning time, are stigmatized by peers and teachers, and may experience trauma related to the physical and psychological humiliations of arrest.” This is a negative impact on Black and Brown children, especially in Harris County as “[i]n 2020, in Harris County just for example, Black kids were 19 times more likely to be confined than white kids, and Latino kids were about seven times more likely to be confined than their white peers,” stated by Castillo. There is a substantially higher population of white children to Black children in Harris County, yet many children being confined as punishment are Black children.

The unfair practice of punishment is one of many practices done to marginalized communities. To have police on school campuses increases the chances that Black and Brown children experience these unfair punishments. Additionally, the resources used on policing in schools affect Black and Brown children more negatively than white children. These resources should be reallocated to resolve run-ins with the law as a rehabilitation effort. The unfair treatment of Black and Brown people with the law outside of school is already extreme, and we shouldn’t allow the treatment of Black in Brown children in school to be the same.

Police Officers in Schools

How youth feel about police in their schools has an interesting outlook in Connecticut. Based on the article Report: School Officers Don’t Make Students, the risk of arrest is five times higher for Black and Latino students in schools with police officers. This shows another way police in schools are used to build on the school-to-prison pipeline system.

A research and policy fellow at Connecticut Voices for Children, Samailla Adelaiye, states having school police officers “defeats that purpose” of building an environment for children to raise their academic performance and build emotionally sound young people. This can be further seen when looking into school financial resources and programs that use the school’s expenses. It takes away the funds to create a program for offenders who commit similar crimes. Some counselors may be hired to replace the police officers that may be better for developing the child rather than the actions that police take when a child is breaking a rule in school. To switch the policy to aim funds to go towards counselors, social workers, and psychology will better aid the children. Additionally, acts of recidivism are more likely to occur when the children are not being properly rehabilitated if a criminal act occurs. The goal of the juvenile justice system should be aimed to support children who have bad practices that hurt the community or themselves. Many of these situations are better handled by having children rehabilitated with positive practices rather than arresting them and treating them like adult offenders.

Having police officers in schools may improperly intimidate children at times and can be unfair. If a police officer is in school, children should be taught their rights. It is unfair to have an officer in a school building when students do not know what rights they have when they are confronted by the officer. As Adelaiye stated in the article, “We recommend that policymakers should pass laws to ensure that parents are present any time a student is questioned about potentially criminal activity, even if it’s not a criminal activity involving that student,” parents should be the first alerted in these moments. Too much history shows where Black and Latino children have been mistreated during routine police practices. If there is a system in place to allow the police officers to question children for an alleged crime, there should also be a system when allowing the child to exercise their constitutional rights.