Do black lives matter? What about black children’s lives?
Federal data released this week showed 504 black children died from maltreatment in 2020 — 73 more than in 2019. Black children were three times more likely to die from abuse or neglect than white children. Given that New York state’s overall number of child fatalities rose from 69 to 105 that year, it’s likely much of this problem is happening in our own backyard.
Responding to the report, JooYeun Chang, Administration for Children and Families assistant secretary, said that “there is still work to do.” No kidding. Where is the outrage? Are there any protests in the streets?
For several years, child-welfare agencies, family courts and various activists have looked to fix racial disparities in the system. These advocates focus on the facts that black families are more likely to be investigated than their white peers, investigations involving black children are more likely to be substantiated and black children are more likely to be removed from their families into the foster-care system. Some advocates have even argued for abolishing foster care entirely in an effort to eliminate those disparities.
Indeed, Chang, formerly Casey Family Programs’ managing director of public policy, has argued that the foster-care system “traumatize[s] kids by removing them from the only communities they have known” only to place them in living situations that “are no better than jails.” The reason so many kids, particularly minority kids, are removed from their homes, she said, is that “our system has been built on centuries of racism, classism and xenophobia.”
But Chang and the activists don’t want to talk about what is causing these disparities. Besides their higher fatality rate, black children are almost twice as likely as white ones to be abused or neglected — a rate of 13.2 for every 100,000 kids vs. 7.4 for white kids. (Native Americans suffer at the highest rate: 15.5 victims for every 100,000 kids.)
Advocates claim this is the result of racism, but then how do you explain the victimization rate for Hispanic children, which is almost exactly the same as that for white ones? Or that especially in cities like New York, the vast majority of the investigators are black or Hispanic professionals? And how do you explain all these black children dying at the hands of their own family members or other dangerous people living in their homes?
Nevertheless, in an effort to combat the structural racism of the “family policing system,” a movement to abolish the child-welfare system has sprung up. Using the “Defund the Police” movement as a model, its leaders demand the elimination of foster care and congregate care, of mandated reporting of maltreatment (by teachers and doctors, for instance) and of drug testing of infants and new mothers. They also want less police involvement in domestic violence (because it leads to more reporting of child maltreatment).
Some of these demands have already been met. Gotham’s public hospitals can no longer test new or expectant mothers for drug use without explicit permission. Judges are using racial disparities as a reason for failing to remove black children from homes where they would never leave white children. And more children are being left in dangerous homes by agencies across the country like ACS.
Just last year, baby Legacy Beauford was allegedly murdered at the hands of his mother’s boyfriend, a violent felon who had previously come to the attention of authorities. Jaycee Eubanks, 4, was allegedly beaten to death by his stepfather after her day care reported signs of abuse to ACS. And Julissia Batties, 7, was allegedly killed by her stepbrother, a young man ACS reportedly questioned before the fatal incident.
As in the movement to defund the police, the effect of tying the hands of child protective services will hurt minority communities the most. Instead of asking questions about which kids are most at risk and how we can keep them safe from their abusers, authorities are looking at their skin color and making decisions based on a misguided idea of social justice. The results are nothing less than deadly.