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Too Poor to Parent

Why does society blame black mothers for one of our nation's pressing social ills?
 
 
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Low-income women — and black women in particular — have their children taken away far more often than white women. Black children are twice as likely as white children to enter foster care.

The reason for this disparity? Study after study reviewed by Stanford University law professor Dorothy Roberts in her book Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare (Basic Books/Perseus, 2002) concludes that poverty is the leading cause of children landing in foster care. One study, for example, showed that poor families are up to 22 times more likely to be involved in the child-welfare system than wealthier families. And nationwide, blacks are four times more likely than other groups to live in poverty.

But when state child-welfare workers come to remove children from black mothers’ homes, they rarely cite poverty as the factor putting a child at risk. Instead, these mothers are told that they neglected their children by failing to provide adequate food, clothing, shelter, education or medical care. The failure is always personal, and these mothers and children are almost always made to suffer individually for the consequences of one of the United States’ most pressing social problems.

This article originally appeared in Ms. Magazine, and the author is Gaylynn Burroughs, an attorney at the Bronx Defenders who represents parents accused of child neglect. The point she makes in the above paragraph is crucial: These are national social problems, but instead of addressing them as such, we’re turning them in to individual failures and punishing individual women and children.

 
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