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Light and Shadow

Confronting the Racist Legacy of
the Americ
an Child Welfare System: The Case for Abolition

A call to ABOLISH the American CHILD WELFARE SYSTEM due
to the harm and destruction
it causes Black families.

Book cover of Confronting the Racist Legacy of the American Child Welfare System: The Case for Abolition by Alan J. Dettlaff, author and abolitionist

In this powerful call to action, Alan J. Dettlaff traces the origins of the modern child welfare system, which emerged just following the abolition of slavery, to demonstrate that the harm and oppression that result from child welfare intervention are not the result of “unintended consequences” but rather are the clear intents of the system and the clearly foreseeable results of the policies that have been put in place over decades.

By tracing the history of family separations in the United States since the era of slavery, Confronting the Racist Legacy of the American Child Welfare System: The Case for Abolition demonstrates that the intended outcomes of those separations—the subjugation of Black Americans and the maintenance of White supremacy—are the same intended outcomes of the family separations done today. What distinguishes contemporary family separations from those that occurred during slavery is that today’s separations occur under a facade of benevolence, a myth that has been perpetuated over decades that family separations are necessary to “save” the most vulnerable children. Yet what if we could see past this mirage of benevolence and recognize family separations for what they truly are—state-directed, state-sponsored terror? Confronting the Racist Legacy of the American Child Welfare System presents evidence of the vast harms that result from family separations to make a case that the child welfare system is beyond reform. Rather, the only solution to ending these harms is complete abolition of this system and a fundamental reimagining of the way society cares for children, families, and communities.

With contributions from Reiko Boyd, Victoria Copeland,
Jesse Hartley, Maya Pendleton, and Kristen Weber

This wonderful examination of U.S. child welfare’s devastating history ends with a well-argued chapter on abolition. Skeptical readers should begin at the end. Use the chapter's bright and urgent vision as a guide to understand how where we’re at is not where we must be. Dettlaff and his colleagues propose abolition as a practical call to action.

Ruth Wilson Gilmore

Abolition Geography: Essays Towards Liberation

Praise For
Confronting the Racist Legacy of the American Child Welfare System: The Case for Abolition

More Praise For
Confronting the Racist Legacy of the American Child Welfare System: The Case for Abolition

Darcey Merritt

University of Chicago, Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy & Practice

Alan Dettlaff is fierce in this indictment to make plain and clear the unmitigated fact that this country has been in the intentional business of separating Black children from their original families since the times of chattel slavery. This acutely critical book deftly highlights the fact that the child welfare system (family policing system) is euphemized as the codified continuation of traumatically disrupting the fabric and legacies of Black families. He reiterates the straight line from chattel slavery removal of children to the modern-day child welfare system, punctuating the fact that this family policing system is state-sanctioned subjugation of Black families. His book forces one to understand the family policing system as an operation of maintaining white superiority at the traumatic expense of Black families. Alan Dettlaff offers no room for debate, just as chattel slavery was abolished, so should the child welfare system. He makes clear that the only protection offered by the child welfare system is protecting white supremacy and social control over Black families. Required reading—this book should humble all those who either don’t understand or refuse to.

Shanta Trivedi

Assistant Professor of Law, University of Baltimore School of Law

Dettlaff convincingly and meticulously outlines the history of the “child welfare” system to explain how it has always been used to control society’s most marginalized. You don’t have to be an abolitionist to appreciate his painstaking attention to detail but by the end of the book, you likely will be.

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