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Weekly Roundup: July 27, 2023


At the Blog

We concluded our summer programming with a second banner week of our symposium on Dorothy Roberts’s Torn Apart and Wendy Bach’s Prosecuting Poverty, Criminalizing Care.

On Monday, Shanta Trivedi argued that the state’s claim to care for children is often little more than an excuse to punish their parents. As she writes, “The system’s privileging of punishment over care is evident in how the state treats both children and parents. The state’s primary response to any allegation of neglect or abuse is to take children from their parents, even though we know that family separation is one of the most harmful experiences that a child can have. When a child is separated from a parent, the stress literally changes the structure of their brain forever. The state compounds that harm by putting the child in a foster system that is often more dangerous than the conditions from which they were removed. We know that children who are on the margins of removal have far worse outcomes than their peers that remain at home on virtually every metric that matters: they perform worse in school, they are more likely to be involved with the juvenile carceral system, their mental and physical health suffers, and they are more likely to live in poverty as adults.”

On Tuesday, Jane Spinak explained how our systems of family policing and punishment extract revenue from an ever-widening pool of mostly low-income people. As she writes, “Roberts calls the monetary aspect of this system the ‘Foster Industrial Complex,’ identifying the ways that states and localities have drawn down billions of dollars of federal funds to investigate, surveille, prosecute, and separate families through child protective services agencies (CPS). Federal Title IV-E foster care funds, for example, are uncapped, while Title IV-B funds for preventive services that help keep children at home are capped and represent a miniscule part of the federal CPS pie. This, in essence, rewards CPS and sub-contracting non-profit agencies for separating families rather than preventing child removal…. Creating non-reformist reforms therefore requires not just a radical shift in our approach to keeping children safely and happily at home with their families but slaying the well-fed lion.”

On Wednesday, Tina Lee examined the deep roots in U.S. culture linking punishment with the provision of care for marginalized groups. As she writes, “throughout our history, the deep-seated and pervasive idea that poverty is fundamentally a moral failing on the part of the poor has shaped the policies and practices to deal with poverty and its effects…. According to prevailing cultural beliefs, poor and non-white folks do not make good decisions, cannot be trusted to care for their children, and thus need to be coerced, through the threat of punishment, into forms of supposedly ‘therapeutic’”’ state interventions. If they could run their lives properly, the logic goes, they would not be poor in the first place.”

And on Thursday, Kelley Fong concluded the symposium by arguing that Bach and Roberts give us accounts not of singular systems, but of something much more wide-ranging: an almost suffocating network of authorities surrounding marginalized mothers. As she writes, “supposedly supportive systems such as healthcare and education get drawn into criminalization and family policing. These systems turn families in: Collectively, about half of reports to Child Protective Services (CPS) come from education, medical, social services, and mental health personnel. State statutes mandate these professionals to report suspicions of child abuse or neglect – a hazy, highly discretionary designation – to CPS authorities who are empowered to forcibly separate families.”

In LPE Land

Over at the American Prospect, David Dayen argues that the so-called “liberalism that builds” needs to pay greater attention to building political power: “The unique circumstances of this industrial-policy moment make it even more critical that the jobs created be actually good ones, and right now that goal has not been fully realized. Leaving the people doing the work behind risks the same outcome as the too-slow recovery from the Great Recession, and even the same Republican president as beneficiary. If people don’t feel like they’re getting anything out of the return to building, they will surely reject it, and consequently reject a better future.” (For more on the limitations a progressive industrial policy that ignores power-building, see Amy Kapczynski’s “What’s Beyond ‘Beyond Neoliberalism.’“)

In the NYT, Megan Stack explains how Starbucks is wantonly violating the law in broad daylight, and shines some much-needed light on the failures of US labor law to protect basic worker rights.