Punitive Child Welfare Policies

Efforts to establish fetal rights have led to an unprecedented attempt to control the conduct of pregnant women, leading to the arrest of hundreds of individuals, mostly low-income women and women of color, for ending a pregnancy, suffering a miscarriage or stillbirth, or attempting to continue a pregnancy to term while suffering from drug or alcohol dependence. In addition, the use of the child welfare system as a vehicle for addressing substance dependence has encouraged punitive family interventions and reinforced systemic racism in both the criminal and child welfare systems. In general, current child welfare policies have failed to support parents struggling to raise their children in safe and healthy environments. Too often child welfare practices have demonized families and relied too heavily on foster care as a primary intervention. The current child welfare system was not designed to overcome structural barriers to safe parenting, including non-discriminatory access to housing, social services, and/or medical treatment. The result has been the disproportionate representation of poor children, children of color, and LGBTQ young people in foster care, an institution that itself perpetuates race- and gender-based inequities and often puts children at risk of harm.

Solutions:
– Support services aimed at preventing placement of children in foster care and encouraging family reunification.
– Encourage culturally responsive, non-punitive, trauma-informed, strengths-based child welfare practices
– Include parent advocates and peer mentors for parents involved in the child welfare system and through the inclusion of family members formerly involved in the child welfare system on decision-making boards and in programmatic evaluation and training.
– Support the creation of a funding stream to states that would allow them to finance parent defense counsel in civil child abuse and neglect proceedings as well as proceedings to terminate parental rights.
– Move pregnant women out of prison and into facilities or programs that can address their reproductive health needs and provide necessary medical and social service support, including mental health services and treatment for substance dependence.

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