Episode #5: The Tyranny of the Child Welfare System, Part 1


PART 1 OF 2!

Threatening to separate families that don’t conform to colonizer norms is as old as the United States itself. This threat and the actual removal of children from their families has been institutionalized in what is now known as the modern child welfare system.

Most social workers are familiar with some iteration of the child welfare system. In fact, popular opinion would probably have you (misguidedly) believe that social work IS child welfare. But really, what is this system that we call child welfare? Can the welfare of any and every child truly be determined by an entity founded on the norms of white middle-class heterosexual parenthood?

In this episode, we speak with our (first!) guest, CT, about their 20-year experience working in child welfare. They share some gripping accounts of how this system causes more harm than it prevents as well as how it disproportionately targets families of color – especially Black families – than white families. And not only is this a terrible system for families to get caught in, but it’s demoralizing, dangerous, and unsupportive for the social workers employed by this system as well.

Full Transcript:

Ondine: Welcome, everybody. This is our fifth episode–

Drew: Number five.

Ondine: Number five of the Decolonize Social Work podcast. We’re very excited about the topic today. We’re going to be talking about Child Protective Services and the Department for Community Based Services. We think that this is worth talking about because so many social workers in the United States end up working, at some point in their career, with Child Protection. Also, popularly, people, when they think of social workers, they think of taking people’s kids away.

Drew: I talked about that in the first episode, that when I was becoming a social worker, my impression was that most social workers did work with kids. Then, I actually learned it’s a lot more expansive than that, so I’m one of those people.

Ondine: Yes. However, Drew and I have not worked for Child Protective Services, so while we have opinions because that’s who we are, and we have research abilities [laughs], we needed to talk to somebody who’s actually been in the system. Our guest here today, CT, used to work for Child Protective Services, for how long?

CT: Oh my gosh. I started in 1994. I was 22 years old.

Drew: Wow.

Ondine: Right out of undergrad?

CT: Right out of undergrad, 22 years old. Then, stopped officially working in Child Welfare in 2012. CPS is like the mob, they never–


CT: You can’t ever really get out of it. I still get some calls to come in and do consultations on occasion. Usually, it’s more training-related kinds of stuff. I just feel like, once you’ve been in that system and you’ve done that work, you’re always a part of that system for good, bad, or whatever that really means. I have seen Child Welfare in this state from pretty much every angle, with the exception of actually being served by the system. I know it well.

Ondine: I’m really excited to learn from you. Just also, to frame our conversation up, as you all know, this podcast is about decolonizing social work. We’re especially approaching this conversation from that perspective. Is the Department of Child Protective Services or the Institution of CPS inherently a colonialist framework? Is it a White supremacist machine?

Drew: In what ways are social workers complicit in holding up that system as well? Which is another thing that we try to include in all the topics that we talk about here.

CT: Yes. Here’s one thing that I do want to say. For all of the problems, and there are a host of problems in Child Welfare, it was where I learned the most about what it really means to be a social worker and what that work is really supposed to be. Not what people do but what it is supposed to be. That’s where I learned advocacy skills. That is where I learned that the position that I’m in allowed me access to people and power. Because I had that access, that helped me find my voice around social and racial justice issues. It also helped me understand how systems show up in people’s lives and not just how we read about it, but I can see it happening.

It was the best training ground and the best educational work for me, personally, but I’m absolutely a critic. I think all people should be a critic of the system. I think if the general public really knew how this functioned, they would be like, “Burn this shit to the damn ground.”


CT: “Just stop it.” When you get to control other people’s narratives, and Child Welfare controls other people’s narratives, you can make it seem like whatever you need it to seem like. It’s a dangerous system for anybody, not just the families that find themselves in it. It’s not safe for the workers, either.

Ondine: I heard that.

CT: It is a bad place.


CT: It’s a bad place to work.

Ondine: Yes. I know there are going to be people listening who are either currently working for Child Welfare who may or may not have the same opinions, so I just want to acknowledge that.

CT: Yes. Some people love this work. I think, at certain points in my career, I loved it too, but I also knew that I was working in such a shitty system. I knew that some of the things that I was doing was complicit in the destruction of entire families. I knew that. I’ve, over my lifetime, had to reconcile my role because workers are complicit in all of this. It’s your job. I think back to some families that I worked with really early in my career and just how super judgmental I was. There was one woman– I will never forget this because I was such a mess, I really was. I used to teach in a college with social work and I would tell my students the story, and there was this woman just a very, pretty basic sort of referral, nobody was getting moved or anything like that. I went to her house, and she lived in a housing project. I remember the weekend before I saw this lady, I’d gone to Value City Furniture.

Ondine: Oh my.

CT: Yes, because I had a job and I only made $16,404.

Drew: Wow.

CT: Before taxes.

Ondine: This is at the cabinet?

CT: This is, yes, in 1994, $16,404 I will never forget that number, because I was like, “I’m rich.”

Ondine: Man.

CT: “I got insurance and everything, this is great.” I remember I’d gone to Value City and looked at this living room set and it was gorgeous, fancy as shit.

Ondine: I’m sure, I can imagine it had some kind of ’90s [unintelligible 00:05:57] some sort of–

CT: Animal print I think was in there as well, and a lot of black and gold [inaudible 00:06:02] At the time, it was really good. I look at it and I’m talking to the person I’m like, “I can not afford any of this, this is way out of my paycheck.”

Ondine: Is that before they had layaway?

CT: Layaway, I would’ve still been paying on that thing if I got it, layaway wasn’t even an option, I’m like, “Who’s got money for layaway? You never need [unintelligible 00:06:26]” I go to this woman’s house and I’m like, “All right, she lives in the projects,” so I already expect a certain kind of thing.

Ondine: Right.

CT: Because that’s what you’re told when you get into this system. All these families are troubled, this is where people live, people are just dirty, and all that.

Drew: That was part of your orientation to the culture of that job?

CT: The way it worked was taught to me about families when I first started, I was just like, “Oh my God, you all hate everybody.” I go into this woman’s house and she opens the door and [unintelligible 00:07:02] she had the entire living room set that I had just looked at.

Drew: Wow.

CT: Lamps, picture frames, the rug, she had it all. I remember in that moment the way that I saw her and her whole situation, I don’t even remember what she was even saying, I was so caught up with the fact that you, someone who lives in the projects, has the entire living room suite that I, college-educated state worker, just looked at and can’t afford. I distinctly remember the way that I talked to her, the way that I even looked at her, the way that I looked around her house was so judgemental. It was such trash behavior on my part, it really was, because I was really operating from this place of, “You don’t even deserve this.”

Ondine: Not afford any dignity or worth to this one.

CT: That’s not what you’re encouraged to do.

Drew: It seems kind of dehumanizing, that people that you are told to go check on or investigate.

CT: It absolutely is. It absolutely is, I distinctly remember being in training and them teaching us ways to not sit on dirty furniture. When I look back at that now, I’m just like, “YOur really bought the set?” I still remember the blue binder, you have your little blue binder because all state workers at the time had these little stupid blue binders, and you’re like, “Okay, you all sit,” then you just sort of slide it up.

Ondine: You sit on your binder?

CT: You sit on your binder, and you sit at the very edge of the seat.

Ondine: People pick up on that stuff.

CT: They absolutely did.

Drew: Yes, people aren’t stupid.

CT: They absolutely did, they absolutely do. In hindsight, I mean, I remember all the times that I did it. At the time, I was really operating from this place of, “These people are dirty, and I don’t want to be around dirty people.” We used to neglect referrals on unclean homes.

Ondine: Okay, which is out of your lessons, the spectrum, right?

CT: It is such a spectrum.

Ondine: I feel like I have an unclean home at the moment.

CT: Listen, if somebody walked across my apartment, they would be like, “Is it like corn everywhere? What is this? What am I stepping on?” They would be like pieces of dog treats, but [unintelligible 00:09:19] this is gross. The way that we were trained, we used to call those referrals dirt referrals, literal dirt referrals.

Ondine: That reminds us of what we were talking about in our last episode around just the culture of workers calling clients things like frequent fliers [crosstalk] [inaudible 00:09:38]

Drew: You should have perfect clients otherwise they’re either judged for needing a service that you’re actually offering, or just shaming people for these problems that in a lot of ways weren’t their fault in the first place.

CT: So many of these families, it is literally not their fault.

Drew: Yes.

CT: It is society’s fault and it is the systems they well depended upon, they have completely failed them, completely failed them. The vast majorities of workers when they first start really didn’t know the business.

Ondine: Same where they were recruiting us in graduate school but that it wasn’t even grad students, they were looking at undergrad social work students testing them [crosstalk]

Drew: It’s like you said, you were like 22.

CT: 22 years old, I have no business making decisions that will impact a kids life for their life. Not just them but their kids and their kids and their kids. At 22, you don’t have the cognitive reasoning to really understand what is it you’re really doing. They lie to you, they ask to lie to you. When I first started, I started on a Wednesday, I will never forget this. I started on a Wednesday, and they were giving us these policy manuals. I’m telling you, they were like five of the biggest, thickest manuals of things I have ever seen.

Ondine: I’m sure this is government, right?

CT: Oh my God, yes. There’s like 75 pages for every one thing, and so I’m just sitting there like, “Okay and so I start reading these things, they don’t make any sense, no sense at all. On Monday, I walk back into my office there were 15 cases sitting on the desk.

Ondine: They expected you to sit with this massive amount of information, somehow digest it appropriately that you would be able to just get to work and so-

Drew: Then you start applying immediately?

Ondine: There was no period of say shadowing?

CT: It was a period of me going on home visits of workers whose cases I was given.

Ondine: They were transferring their work– [crosstalk]

CT: Happily. Of course, I’m the new kid, so I’m getting everybody’s worst case, my 15 cases. I remember I walked out of my office and I said,” Somebody left a bunch of stuff on my desk.”


CT: Everybody in the office was like,” What do you think that is, those are your cases.” I was like,” What do you mean?” Then my supervisor at the time’s like,” You know, you go out with the worker, they’ll introduce you to the family, and then you can read the writing records in the file to catch up on what’s going on.” I’m just like–

Ondine: This is the training you’re getting in order to be able to make really big decisions that like you said will impact these kids and their parent’s lives?

CT: I get training for like six months, I had official training for six months. They’ve done a substantially better job with it but like even the training that’s a whole other subject, it’s a whole other thing. Six months of just winging it and really having no idea and just really flying by the seat of my pants with that stuff. Really listening to other workers who’ve been there for a while, some of which were good, some of which were absolute trash. Then my practice was absolute trash at a point because that’s who I’m learning from. I was so young, I didn’t even realize what I was doing. When I say I didn’t realize what I was– I had no clue what I was doing, I had no idea why I was doing it, and it always felt icky.

Ondine: It sounds like there was a lack of context to your role. When we’re getting ready to do this podcast with you again because we haven’t worked with CPS, we did a little bit of research to learn what we could about the origins of this system. In the United States, it looks like officially, Child Protective Services wasn’t under the offices of the government until about the ’70s. Prior to that, there were some governments, state governments who operated these services, but a lot of terrible organizations, private organizations, and then you found some interesting information about the origin.

Drew: Yes, actually there are two writers from the State University of New York Amy Mulzer and Tara Urs, a journal called However Kindly Intentioned: Structural Racism and Volunteered CASA Programs. They actually argue that some of the practices that came to be known as Child Protective Services really started right after the civil war when middle class White women over the age of 30 played the primary role in establishing the modern child welfare system, the ability of White women to speak for the best interest of poor children of color to advocate for their removal from their families and to receive deference and praise from legal systems comes to our modern legal systems [inaudible 00:14:39].  It really starts here but even goes back further than that like this idea of family intervention being acted out as removal of children from families too, right?

Ondine: Many of us who are Americans who live in the United States know of our ugly history from the taking indigenous children from their families, and actually, there’s a great article in Teen Vogue, I love Teen Vogue. Teen Vogue, they are just amazing. This is very fairly recent, so we will link it to our website. This article talks a bit about how the foster system is really harming indigenous children in the United States. That in the 1800s, Captain Richard Henry Pratt said,” Kill the Indian, save the man.” This was the mantra of the organization of the federal government at the time. We would remove these kids from their family and assimilate them into White American culture, teach them Christianity, have them speak English, cut their hair, all of this so that we will eventually, over time, eradicate indigenous people and their history.

The other article goes on to talk about how these practices continue to happen, but we can talk more about that later. We have a long history in our country. You had a really interesting book about a year or two ago about even in Hawaii?

Drew: I think it’s actually Sarah Vowell book which talks about the history of, basically, the colonization of Polynesian islands and how it was really Mormons there who left themselves in charge of removing indigenous families to live like White people basically acculturate them or civilize them in a way. I was actually going to refer back to this article I just read from– I think one of the questions, who sets the standard? We’ve talked about that in some other episodes as well and who decides what is good parenting, what is responsible parenting? Going back to middle class White women in the Civil War, the authors of this article say, “Notions of pure good White motherhood were used to set the bar for what was deemed safe and appropriate parenting and formed the basis for an expansion of the intrusion into a private family life of those whose parenthood did not conform to that ideal.” I think that’s–

Ondine: This is what we’re talking about in every episode of our podcast.

Drew: Like who establishes norms, who has the power to establish those norms, very clearly like this is what was used to assess families of other cultures and determine you’re not fit.

Ondine: This is deep-rooted stuff. I’m curious, tell me how does continue to look? Does that still show up?

CT: Out of the box, it absolutely shows up. I think it’s the foundation of child welfare itself, this was the standard of parenting, that it’s White, Christian, two parents preferably–

Ondine: Heterosexual?

CT: Absolutely, heterosexual. What, there’s gay people?

Ondine: Never mind, I’m sorry.

CT: Two parents, heterosexual, everybody cis, everybody’s Christian. Mom doesn’t work because her job is to raise the kids and dad’s job is to do everything else. I, 100% have seen that play out so much in child welfare and it’s really interesting. I went back and was just looking, remising, on a website and this saw the civil rights brochure that they had for parents. One of the first things that I noticed was that there’s this lukewarm nondiscrimination policy, that it is nondiscrimination based political belief, that’s the first one which I found fascinating. Race, color, national origin, religion, age, mental or physical disability, or sex. Which means everything else, you can get [unintelligible 00:18:37] you can absolutely get [unintelligible 00:18:39]

I’ve seen people being penalized for working two jobs because they have to work two jobs. Case claims to me are little pieces of paper that are full of penalties for folks, they’re absolutely full of penalties for folks. The case claims could look like getting a parenting assessment, what’s that means because what’s the standard for parenting and we know what that is. Mental health assessment, I don’t have mental health issues but the assumption is that anyone who comes in contact with the parent, automatically has mental health issues, you definitely will after, you will absolutely have it after. Let’s see, parenting classes, if there’s a hint of any sort of substance use, then you will have to have a substance abuse assessment. Toward the end of my time working, I was starting to see things like the psychological exam.

Ondine: How is that different than a mental health assessment?

CT: About $1500.

Ondine: That’s on the burden of the parent to pay.

CT: Yes, and I’d never do a case where somebody was able to get a psychological exam completed. If you don’t complete the test on your case claim then you’re not compliant. Then you’re not complaint long enough, we can terminate your current rights and that can happen real quick.

Ondine: I’ve heard some pretty valid critique with case claim being pretty coercive and parents not even understanding how every example stresses if this is true of parents being told that they have to sign off and agree with a case plan, otherwise they’re going to put their kids in foster care. The parent doesn’t know that to actually put their kids in foster care, the system might actually have to go before a judge and there are some steps. If the parents knew that they might be able to decide, “Actually, I’m not signing this right now,” did you see that?

CT: I saw that a lot, the last probably eight years that I learned through the system, my job was to facilitate family team meetings, I was the person in the line who would facilitate the development of case [unintelligible 00:20:54] The family would be there, the cabinet folks would be there, sometimes attorneys would show, very rarely did families show up without other supportive people. There would be some times where we started out talking about what this family does well, and I can’t tell you how many times an investigator would say, “I don’t have any concerns about their parenting.” Perfect, great.

Ondine: Why are we here?

Drew: What’s the issue?

CT: There’s that, then we get to the case claim, first thing, parenting assessment and so this would be big.

Ondine: Help me to understand. [laughs]

CT: This what I would say to workers, “Help this family understand why. On the strength side, you said, ‘There’s no concerns with the parent,’ and you as the investigator, you said that, right?” “Right, I don’t have any concerns.” Help them understand because it’s their case claim, why there’s a parenting assessment on here if there’s no concern with their parenting, it seems a little odd to me.” The families will be like, “Yes, why?” Then a lot of time workers will be like, “All right, we can take that off.”

Ondine: If you hadn’t been there to facilitate that conversation and point out what was actually going on–?

Drew: This really reminds me of the way that police will pick up young folks, typically brown and Black people and basically arrest them for ridiculous stuff. Then some prosecutor will coerce them to take a plea bargain when really they could have gone on in front of the judge and gotten it dismissed. The thing about the plea bargain is you can get back out and can pay your bail and all this stuff. Basically, what it does is create a system where people have convictions on their record of things they weren’t even guilty for only because they were holding their freedom hostage, basically.

CT: It’s the same, their holding people’s kids hostage, they really are. There were so many of those cases. Probably, the time that my unit was doing them we probably did almost 4,000 of those. That’s 4,000 opportunities to see how this system really works or does not work. There were times where I probably overstepped my bounds as a facilitator, but I felt okay doing that because–

Ondine: [crosstalk] We talk about that social workers have a responsibility.

CT: We do and so there would be these moments where I’m just like, “I don’t think this actually needs to be on this case plan.” Sometimes workers would push back, and I would be like, “Then give us a really good reason why this needs to be on this case claim.” There would be a couple of times where I would tell them,” You don’t have to sign it, you don’t have to. If you don’t sign it, these are all the things that they are going to do, but you don’t have to sign it, you can talk to an attorney.”

It was always this workers coming back, “If you don’t sign this case claim then the next time we go to court,” that’s the language, “The next time you go to court, then we’ll just tell the judge that you didn’t want to sign this case claim.” Then you are presented as non-complaint from the get go and then judges will be like, “You don’t want your kids? All you’ve got to do is do this stuff.” Of course, the family will be like, “Fine, I will sign.”

Ondine: Of course.

Drew: What other options do they have at that point?

CT: They don’t have an option.

Ondine: It sounds like so much of this is really subjective, I know that you have found– [crosstalk]

CT: The whole system is subjective.

Ondine: Everything is a definition, right?

Drew: Of what is considered child abuse and neglect, it’s like what is the working federal definition of the Department of Health and Human Services on a 2012 report. This is the general definition that some states can go upon but this is the basic working of it which says, “Any recent act or failure to act on the part of the parent or caretaker which results in death, serious physical or emotional harm, sexual abuse or exploitation, or an act or failure to act which presents an imminent risk of serious harm.” It’s that last part to me– What is harm?

Ondine: Yes, what is harm? [crosstalk]

Drew: What is serious harm? Is what I think is unsafe, what everybody should think is unsafe?

CT: Early in my career, one of my co-workers wanted to file a petition on a family. It was a mom and maybe four or five little kids. I just remember the kids were all under the age of five. I was like, “What’s going on?” She said, “They’re all sleeping in one bed.” I was like, “Okay.”

Drew: And?

CT: She’s like, “They should all have separate beds.” I was like, “Girl, are you serious right now?” I was like, “You’re about to completely dismantle an entire family because people don’t have beds?” “They should have their own beds, and they shouldn’t have to sleep four or five kids in the bed.” I was like, “Is the bed filthy? Is there something wrong with the bed?” “No.” “Is it a twin bed?” “No, it was a queen sized bed.”

Ondine: This reminds me of who establishes the norms about what’s acceptable.

CT: Absolutely. Beds look very different based on culture. I distinctly remember a time when I pulled my entire bed off, so just had a mattress on the floor because, in my little 13-year-old– I was like, “This is how people sleep in New York in lofts.”


CT: My mom getting in my room and was like, “What in the hell is going on here?” I was like, “Listen, it’s my room.” That somebody could have told me it been like–

Ondine: Who is this child sleeping on the floor?

CT: Sleeping on the floor and I would have been removed. I’ll tell you, it is so easy to get a kid removed if you know the language.

Ondine: Say a little bit more about that. What is the language?

CT: The language, risk of harm, failure to protect. Like if mom has or even dad– If mom has a significant other who has any sort of a criminal record like possession of marijuana charge, I could write that up as mom is exposing child to substance abuse. Whether that is the fact or not. That’s how I can write it up. I look back at the times where I’ve written petitions, I’m like, “Damn, shit, I could get literally anybody’s kid removed based off of just knowing what the language is?” There’s like trigger words. Failure to protect is one of the biggest ones.

Drew: I could imagine if a parent– Like if I’m the parent, I have a kid, and I don’t put their seatbelt on. They’ll probably be called and be like, “He’s failed to protect that kid from an accident.” That could potentially happen?

CT: Absolutely.

Drew: That’s terrorizing. [crosstalk]

CT: That’s true. It’s funny that you mentioned that because I distinctly remember, again, early on in my career where a visit had just happened. We put the kid in the parent’s car or whatever, then they didn’t have a car seat. We were just like, “Oh my God, somebody call the police. They don’t have a carseat.” Somebody called the police. They gave them a description of the car and the license number. I’m just like in that moment, it made sense because I was operating. I thought that’s what you were supposed to do, but in hindsight, I’m like what we should’ve done is been like, “Hey, do you have a car seat?”

Ondine: “Here’s how you can get one.”

CT: “Here’s how you can get one.”

Drew: I want to go back to something you said with the example of the caseworker or the social worker and the people [unintelligible 00:28:40] like that. It seems like it went from discovery of the children sleeping in the bed to writing this up as a report. Where was the intervention to prevent that from escalating? To be like, “They might need some services, they might need some assistance. Let’s find them some stuff,” to kind of prevent me from having to make this decision.

CT: That’s not a child worker does.

Ondine: It sounds like it’s all reactive.

Drew: [crosstalk] It’s not preventative at all.

CT: It’s very reactive. It is incredibly reactive. What should’ve happened in a situation like that was at first she should’ve left them alone.

Ondine: Right. There’s no problem.

Drew: There’s not an issue.

CT: Like, “You all cool?”, ‘Yes.”, “Cool, bye,” and just leave them alone. If someone was so concerned about that, the first thing that you should’ve done was to try to figure out how to maybe get them an extra bed, if you were so concerned about it. It went from first home visit, they’re alll sleeping in the same bed to all these kids are at risk, like they’re going to die if they’re all sleeping in the same bed. What I remember about being a little bitty kid, I feel like they just fall asleep wherever.

Ondine: They sleep through anything.

CT: Yes. Why can’t they have [unintelligible 00:29:48] couch, who cares? They’re safe. That was the primary issue that she had with the case. Now, our supervisor was like, “Louis, we can’t do that.” In that moment the supervisor had some clarity and some sense, but that worker was adamant that they should come out of the house, “No one lives like this.”

Ondine: Tell me a little bit from your experience how Black and brown children in particular Black and brown families are affected by the system.

CT: This is one of the worst systems to ever show up in the life cycle of a Black or brown family, Black families in particular. Because they are much more likely to have their kids removed. One of the things that I used to work on was racial disproportionality. It is really the over-representation of children of color in comparison to their representation of the general population. I found this community report from July of 2017 which I find interesting because it’s [crosstalk] [unintelligible 00:30:51]

Ondine: It’s a little old now.

CT: Okay. If you take a look at state-wide African American kids, White kids makes up about 9% of the total child population in this state. Reports [unintelligible 00:31:06] on Black kids were almost 12%. Substantiations were about 9%, 9.4% services needed almost 10%

Ondine: The substantiation meaning there was something [crosstalk] following up on?

CT: Really what it means is, we found something that proves your a shitty family. That’s what they really mean.

Drew: The definition of harm again.

CT: Now children entering out of home care which means children who have legally been removed from the custody of their parents. Remember 9% general population, 11.4% coming into care. When I worked in the system, the data was a lot worse. it was probably twice that much. What they’ve done is that they’ve pulled out biracial kids. Now there’s two more races. African-American and White. They pull African-American kids up, biracial kids out, specifically White and African-American kids, they make it seem like Black kids are not like, “We’re doing much better of a job. Look, the numbers have been all down.” These mixed kids they’re biracial kids depending on who’s looking at them, you all are Black.

When I first started seeing the [unintelligible 00:32:23] I was like, “Yes, [unintelligible 00:32:24] This is trash data collection.” Hispanic and Latinx folks 5% are actually under-represented in the child welfare systems. For adoptions, it’s 5.1% so exit to adoptions for brown kids is closer to their representation in the general population. Much of what happens– biracial kids are over-represented too, so 2% of the general population 4.4% reports. It really comes from people assuming that Black families in particular are more abusive and neglectful than White parents. There were some NIH studies that were true back in the ’90s. The first one was, “Yes, they are more abusive and neglectful, let’s prove it.” The research didn’t prove it.

Ondine: Yes, I’ve heard that.

CT: Then they were like, “Shit, this got to be wrong. Maybe our methodology was wrong,” but something was wrong. Then secondly the same thing. You know this, the data has shown this, but you still will come for Black families far more frequently than you look out for anybody else.

Ondine: That’s not why it’s [unintelligible 00:33:42]

CT: Absolutely. I tell you schools are complicit in it.

Ondine: I was wondering if you were explain that.

CT: Schools are complicit in it.

Ondine: “Who are your reporters?” and I was thinking probably schools. [crosstalk]

CT: Teachers, schools. During my time, so many referrals came from [unintelligible 00:33:57]. I do remember right when we started trying to talk about disproportionality, we did these series of trainings called Undoing Racism by the People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond [unintelligible 00:34:13]. Changed every way– I was like, “What in the hell?” They take you, they really help you understand where this all started. It was the most intense work I had ever done up to that point. I would walk out of those sessions like, “I can’t stand White people.”


CT: “They’re just trash, they do the worst shit to people. It was a three-day thing, super intense, and I remember going back the second day just as mad as hell. I was looking at everybody like, [unintelligible 00:34:55]. It was so hard to see in those faces, to watch White people– for everything that they said, White people come back with a different [inaudible 00:35:07] “What about this, what about this?” It was always rooted in, “White people kids get taken too.” Yes, but they don’t get taken because they’re White, Black kids get taken because they’re Black, Brown people get taken because they’re brown, that’s what happens. They can say they can befriend any other time when they want, the data bears that out. If you are not an all White little child, you are at risk for removal all the time because all it takes is one well-intentioned White person to make a phone call, and they’re going to show up on your doorstep.

Drew: In the past couple of years, we’ve seen these stories of just nosy White people calling the police on Black families having barbeques, hanging out at the pool, sleeping on the dorms, we talk about that and I’m reminding, these are the people who call on these families.

CT: Same ones. What is terrible for any family that gets in the CPS system, once you’re in that system even if it’s unsubstantiated, even if it doesn’t meet anybody’s criteria, you are still in the system. Even if one person calls on you, that stuff follows you and it doesn’t go away now, it does not go away. Let’s say a mom, dad, parent, or a caretaker has a neglect referral substantiated and neglect really is like you don’t have access to what you really need.

Ondine: That’s a capitalism problem.

CT: People act like that people choose not to have access to stuff.

Ondine: Why don’t I have food today? That’s fine.

CT: No, not into it today.

Drew: I thought about buying this bed but I just really prefer to sleep on these floors. [crosstalk]

CT: I really did it, with his hands on the back. Nobody chooses poverty, nobody’s like, “Yes, this poverty thing it looks like it works out for folks, let me get some of that,” nobody chooses that. It is a failure of every system that we had where will penalize people because the systems failed.

Drew: Blame them.

CT: Absolutely, because we’ve been taught this where you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps, some people don’t have boots.

Ondine: That’s White similar colonial– [crosstalk]

CT: It absolutely is

Drew: That’s individualism without looking at anything about how society sets you up for success or keeps you down in oppression, it’s all always at the end of the day, your fault.

CT: Much of it is really being, White people are just good people and adhere like they’re just born good. People of color, no.

Ondine: Flawed.

CT: Absolutely flawed, like you can’t undo that, unless you shed your culture and assimilate all the way into White culture. You have to reject every piece of yourselves and adopt this fake identity and maybe it will be less likely that that problem. Maybe.

Drew: White people still aren’t going to see you as equal to them, no, even on that.

CT: They will see you as less Black or less brown, just less of a threat and a little bit more like me, but you’re always going to be a person of color, always. Always, always, always.

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