SHATTERED BONDS by Dorothy Roberts


The Color of Child Welfare
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The author of Killing the Black Body (1997) looks at our national foster-care system, the disproportionate number of African-American children within that population, and the consequences for black families and communities.

Roberts (Law/Northwestern Univ.) believes that the child welfare system is “a state-run program that disrupts, restructures, and polices Black families,” noting that while half of all children in foster care are black, African-American children represent only 17 percent of US youths. The author concludes there is a two-tiered system in place: problems within affluent (white) families are treated as private matters, while foster care deals almost exclusively with poor (black) families. Even while asserting that institutionalized racism and classism are embedded within the child welfare system, Roberts notes that “severe violence toward children is more likely to occur in households with annual incomes below the poverty line.” Contrasting children of divorce with children in foster care, the author suggests that in the former, a child’s relationship with the non-custodial parent is usually protected, while in the latter, the goal is to sever parental ties so that a child may be adopted. Maintaining that family deterioration leads to community disintegration, Roberts calls for raising the minimum wage in an effort to reduce poverty, the aggressive creation of jobs for the unemployed, a national health service, high-quality subsidized child care, preschool education, and paid parental leave for all families. Curiously absent from Roberts’s argument is any mention of the fathers’ role in these extremely poor families, such as their obligation to pay child support and to help rear their children. She tends to romanticize the poor, assigning to them no accountability for their current circumstances. Also troubling is her insistence on parent/child reunification in all but the most extreme cases of abuse—even in those families where the parent has a persistent drug habit and all of the children have been born chemically dependent.

A provocative argument stressing community over individual responsibility.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 2002
ISBN: 0-465-07058-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Basic
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 2001