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What Children’s Lawyers Need to Know About Anti-Black Racism and Its Impact on Families

Catherine E Krebs

What Children’s Lawyers Need to Know About Anti-Black Racism and Its Impact on Families
Prostock-Studio via Getty Images

No matter the specific field in which a children’s lawyer works, it is critical that they understand the history of anti-Black racism and how it has impacted families in the United States since the time of slavery. In August 2022, the American Bar Association (ABA) adopted Resolution 606 which calls on all legal professionals to recognize how over-surveillance of and underinvestment in Black families has shaped the child welfare field for centuries. The ABA Commission on Youth at Risk authored and sponsored the resolution, which was co-sponsored by many ABA entities, including the Litigation Section. Accompanying the resolution is a report that contains a brief but powerful history that all children’s lawyers will benefit from reading. Here are just a few highlights:

  • The historical recognition of anti-Black racism in the child welfare system “does not suggest that every child removal from the home is wrong” nor is it “designed to support a full repeal of all child welfare laws.”
  • Since the ending of slavery, laws have facilitated the separation of and underinvestment in Black families that continue today (the report linked above provides a good overview of all of those laws).
  • With an understanding of the history, legal professionals have a responsibility to challenge “laws, policies, and practices that devalue Black families and normalize systemic racism and family separation” and “ensure all legal decisions, policies, and practices regarding children’s wellbeing respect the value of Black children and families’ racial, cultural, and ethnic identities and the connections, needs, and strengths that arise from those identities.”
  • The resolution “urges the legal profession to recognize the inherent strength of Black families, to value Black cultural and ethnic identity tied to race, and to follow the lead of Black parents, children, and kin with lived experience in child welfare in taking constructive steps to end the legacy of family separation and design a public approach to family support that best meets children and parents’ needs in the future.”
  • The report concludes, “Like other legal systems, child welfare has a long history of over-surveillance of and underinvestment in the lives of Black families. This Resolution urges the ABA and the legal profession to examine that history, acknowledge our role in shaping it, and begin to untangle it by following the lead of Black children, parents, and kin who have experienced child welfare and know both the potential for harm and the importance of investing in the strength of Black families as foundational to our country.”

Though Resolution 606 focuses on anti-Black racism within the child welfare system, the history has a far-reaching impact that relates to many of the other fields in which we work including the criminal and juvenile justice systems which directly leads to family separation and disproportionately impacts Black families. It is imperative that we understand this history so that we can provide zealous advocacy to our clients.