Mandatory reporting laws result in the surveillance of Black, Native, and Latinx families, turning their communities into environments where family policing intervention can happen at any place and time. This surveillance is indicative of the system’s antagonistic relationship with communities and is informed by a long history of criminalizing certain communities, especially poor Black and Native communities. State and federal mandatory reporting laws must be repealed to end the surveillance of families.
Repeal mandatory reporting laws.
Mandatory reporting laws require that educators, doctors, nurses, therapists, child care providers, intimate partner violence support workers, and others report families to child abuse and neglect hotlines with any suspicion of concerns.47 Reporting families to family policing systems opens the door for increased policing and surveillance, and ultimately begins the process through which families experience harm, trauma, and punishment.48 It is well documented that racism, classism, and other structural factors influence reporting to hotlines.49 Mandatory reporting also creates distrust between families and people who should be offering support (e.g., teachers, therapists, health care providers, and intimate partner violence support workers), turning what should be helping and supportive relationships into ones of policing and surveillance.50 This dynamic prevents families from seeking and receiving real support—support that is non-coercive, decreases harm, and addresses their needs.
End permanent punishment caused by the use of registries.
When the family policing system substantiates parents for abuse or neglect, their names are placed on an abuse and neglect registry. Many agencies require a low burden of proof to place parents on these registries, but it is exceedingly difficult for parents to get their names removed.51 Placement on a registry carries severe economic impacts, including being barred from working in certain sectors. In many instances being placed on registries only serves to perpetuate harm, not prevent it. Other registries, such as sex offender registries, severely impact individuals’ ability to find employment and housing.52 Registries center punishment, increase harm to families and communities through further marginalization, and because of racism and homophobia, often disproportionately punish Black and queer people. Registries do not increase community safety, but rather invite further harm upon community members.
End drug testing of expectant and new parents and their newborns.
Testing parents and their newborns for drugs is linked to a long, racist history of devaluing Black motherhood and differential treatment toward Black mothers who use substances.53 Black women are disproportionately targeted for this testing, even when there is no evidence that substance use has impacted their child’s health or their ability to care for their child.54 Drug testing hinders parents’ comfort with being honest with their doctors—which is critical to receiving good medical support—due to the fear that doing so will lead to policing and surveillance.55 Infants are often separated from their parents at the hospital, which is detrimental to the bond with their parents and healthy development. This racist practice does not keep children safe and transforms the doctor-patient relationship into one of surveillance instead of care.
End surveillance by educators and other educator personnel.
Teachers and other educators are trusted adults who should nurture children and work with families to support children’s healthy development. Too often, however, mandatory reporting requires that teachers disrupt their relationships with children and parents through laws that require them to report parents whose children are frequently absent from school or for what many jurisdictions categorize as “educational neglect.”56 There are many factors that cause children to miss school such as lack of transportation, conflicts with parents’ work schedules, and parents who are experiencing mental health challenges. Parents should receive support from schools and teachers to ensure the well-being of children, not surveillance and the threat of family policing intervention through mandatory reporting.
End collaboration between the police and family policing systems.
Police do not keep children and families safe. Whether creating reports against parents, participating in involuntary removals, or completing “wellness checks,” police do not keep children or families safe, but rather create more harm, trauma, and violence. Police have no place in responding to families’ needs, whether a mental health crisis or intimate partner violence. Police have repeatedly shown that their presence creates more harm, and sometimes life-ending violence, especially in interactions with Black communities. When police arrest parents, they often call child abuse hotlines to place children into foster care, and in some states, have the power to automatically place children into custody.57 This often occurs without any attempt to identify other appropriate adults to care for children, resulting in unnecessary harm and trauma to both children and parents.
End the use of risk assessment tools and other racist algorithms, including predictive analytics.
These tools use technology and data to categorize families into arbitrary categories that impact children’s and families’ lives. These tools are often presented as solutions to racism and bias, with the underlying assumption that computer-generated assessment tools can protect against them. However, in the family policing system, these tools are usually developed based on the population already involved with the system, thus building on the racist inequities already present.58 Further, these tools are not consistently implemented and used, recalibrated, or even designed and evaluated with the involvement of impacted communities. The use of these tools disproportionately harms Black, Native, and Latinx families and exacerbates existing structural racism.