Foreword: Strengthened Bonds: Abolishing the Child Welfare System and Re-Envisioning Child Well-Being

Polikoff, Nancy D.; Spinak, Jane M.

The 2001 book, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, by Dorothy Roberts, called out the racism of the child welfare system and the harms that system perpetrates on families and communities. Twenty years later, despite numerous reform efforts, the racism and profound harms endure. It is time for transformative change. In this foreword to the symposium Strengthened Bonds: Abolishing the Child Welfare System and Re-Envisioning Child Well-Being, honoring the 20th anniversary of Shattered Bonds, we highlight Professor Roberts’ articulation of her development as a family policing abolitionist and summarize the articles and comments contributed from scholars in numerous disciplines and well as impacted parents, family defense advocates and systemchange activists. These contributions help us learn from history and political theory; focus on the unique and shared circumstances of Native American families; critique, and call for repeal of, much of current law; condemn the punitive, and racially disproportionate, surveillance of families; and demand a new approach that diverts the massive funding of the foster-care industrial complex into support, services, and healing for families, tribes, and communities.

We call for abolition of the family regulation system, the term we use as a more accurate description of what is commonly called the child welfare or child protection system. We situate this call in the context of the more developed movement for prison abolition. The current system is predicated on seeing individual parents as a risk to their children. It fails to see the strengths and resilience of parents and families; the harms of surveillance and removal; and the structural forces that harm children by failing to invest in adequate housing, income, child care, health and mental health services, and educational opportunities for all families. Abolition provides the transformative mind-set that will enable loving and strengthened families to raise happy, healthy, safe, educated, and imaginative children.


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Columbia Journal of Race and Law

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August 29, 2022