Systemic Inequality | Systemic Racism in Child Neglect Laws

By Kendra Kumor

The American child protection and support system was founded in the Reconstruction era.  After the Civil War, many Southern states passed so-called Black Codes, which included apprenticeship statutes.  These apprenticeship statutes allowed children to be removed from their parents’ care for any number of reasons, including poor moral character or financial instability.  Although these statutes have long since been repealed, the residual institutional effects still linger in today’s child neglect and custody battles.  Black children are disproportionately represented in child protective services investigations, in part because Black families constitute a disproportionate part of the homeless and impoverished population in the United States.  Currently, some states’ legal definitions for child neglect simply track the expected conditions of poverty.  This Comment argues child neglect should be defined more narrowly to avoid the arbitrary removal of Black children from their families.  This Comment also argues that child protection professionals should take into account the wider environmental conditions Black families face, which are often the result of community neglect, as opposed to parental neglect.