Season 1, Episode 5
Season 1, Episode 5
In episode 5, we discuss the harms of family separation on children and parents, the outcomes of family policing involvement, and connections between mass incarceration and family policing.
Joyce also shares more about her advocacy for Family Miranda Rights and her personal experiences as a mother impacted by the system.
About Our Guests:
Joyce McMillan is a thought leader, advocate, activist, community organizer, educator, and the Founder and Executive Director of JMACforFamilies (Just Making a Change). Joyce’s ultimate goal is to abolish systems of harm – especially the family policing/regulation/destruction system while creating concrete community resources.
Shanta Trivedi is an assistant professor of law and faculty director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Prior to joining academia, Trivedi was a staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice, representing parents embroiled in the family policing system. Trivedi is a widely published legal scholar and policy advocate in popular media, with a focus on promoting approaches to reduce family separation by the family policing and other legal systems.
Hosts: Josie Pickens & Jaison Oliver
Producer: Sydnie Mares
Editor: Imani Crosby
MODULE FIVE: Intended Consequences
Review the harm that results to Black children, families, and communities from forcible family separations and placement in foster care.
Coming up this episode of The upEND Podcast.
I did not open my door. They told me they were going to break it down. I said then break it down, but I’m not opening it for you. You will work to get into this house. And so they didn’t work to get in. But people become really afraid when they say, if you don’t open a door, we’re going to break the door down. And once we break it down, we’re taking your children immediately.
And I just, you know, one by one, looked through my docket and was really horrified that people were losing their kids because they didn’t have stable housing, they didn’t have child care, they didn’t have secure employment. And those don’t sound like good reasons to take someone’s children.
Families separated through Child Protective Services voiced their anger on the steps of the state capital today.
They say the system has a history of racial discrimination.
Stop kidnapping Black children.
This CPS system is just a part of a bigger system. We have to destroy the whole damn thing.
53% of Black children will be investigated by the child welfare system by the time they turn 18.
The family policing system forcibly separates over 200,000 children from their families every year. Can a system that began with racist intent ever become a system that makes all children and communities safe?
We know the answer is no. Absolutely not.
Welcome to the upEND Podcast, a podcast that looks toward the abolition of the child welfare system, which we at upEND more accurately call the family policing system.
In this podcast, we contemplate the history of family separations in the US, the current state of the family policing system, and what a future without family policing can look like.
We’re your hosts. I’m Josie Pickens.
And I’m Jaison Oliver. Let’s get started.
Welcome back to the upEND Podcast. In this episode, we’ll be talking about the harms of the family policing system. We’re glad to have two guests joining us today, Joyce McMillan and Shanta Trivedi. Thanks for joining us, y’all.
Thrilled to be here. Thanks for having me.
So I want to share a little bit about Joyce McMillan and Shanta Trivedi.
Joyce McMillan is a thought leader, advocate, activist, community organizer, educator, and the founder and executive director of JMACforFamilies (Just Making a Change). Joyce’s ultimate goal is to abolish the system of harm that we know as the child welfare system, which upEND Movement and Joyce more adequately call the family policing system or the family regulation system. The goal of Joyce’s work is to abolish the system of harm while creating concrete community services and resources.
Shanta Trivedi is an assistant professor of law and faculty director of the Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts at the University of Baltimore School of Law. Prior to joining academia, Trivedi was a staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice, representing parents embroiled in the family policing system. Trivedi is a widely published legal scholar and policy advocate in popular media, with a focus on promoting approaches to reduce family separation by the family policing system and other legal systems.
So welcome, y’all. So happy to have you both here today. And I guess we’ll just get rolling into the conversation that we want to have today. And I’d like to begin, Joyce, with you. Asking you about your experiences as an impacted mother when we’re talking about the family policing system. So, Joyce, can you talk to us about how your experience with the system impacted your own health and well-being as a mother? And where were you able to find support if you were able to find support?
First I would say being an impacted mother definitely brought me to this work. What I find from the family policing system is that they come under the guise of “protecting or ensuring the safety of a child.” And this is what the general public buys into. But when they showed up at my house and from my experience as an advocate, when they show up at any parent’s house, they never check and limit what they’re looking at to the things that a child has or needs. They really investigate who you are as a person. Therefore, a lot of implicit biases enter into the investigation.
They ask questions like, do you have a boyfriend? Are you married? Were you ever married? None of this stuff is relating to the reason they were called, or none of it can show whether or not the child is being cared for. The only thing that will show whether or not a child is being cared for is to look at the things the child needs and assess whether or not they have it. And the smart thing to do from there would be to provide anything that a family may be lacking. In my case, I wasn’t lacking anything. They used their implicit biases about drug use to separate me from my children because I had a substance in my system.
And I voluntarily when I was asked, we can utilize the word voluntarily because I didn’t know I had the right to say no from the way they expressed their presence to me and the rights that they have. And so I cooperated. I will change that word from saying that I volunteered to say I cooperated with their demands and provided a urine sample, at which time they immediately separated my children.
The urine sample did not speak to who I was as a person, my ability to care for the children, the fact that I was properly caring for them, the fact that they were not in danger, imminent or otherwise. And so this whole idea of protecting children while investigating parents is bullshit. I don’t know if I was supposed to say that on your podcast. It’s nonsense. And it has to be stopped because what we’re doing is, we’re surveilling certain groups of people. And those certain groups of people look like marginalized communities that they can easily take advantage of.
Yes. And going through this process and I’m sure that it was a long process before you were reunited with your children, how did it affect your health, like mentally, emotionally, physically? I’m sure it took a toll on all of those things with you.
It absolutely did. I went from utilizing a substance that I had been utilizing since preteen age to becoming addicted to a substance. And so how it took a toll on my health was to make me completely check out because I could not deal with the separation initially. I had a very hard time processing it and I didn’t have a lot of support.
I had a large family, but my family was torn between what really happened because Child Protective Services would not remove a child for no reason. So there was this at times, unspoken and other times said out loud thing, that you’re not telling us something. Something happened. You did something. They wouldn’t just take your child.
And so that’s one of the reasons my work has been what my work is. Because I think that CPS strategically works to alienate the person that they’re investigating from anyone who would otherwise be their support by making these subliminal statements and putting these ideas in their head about what they wouldn’t do, which is exactly what they are doing. Leaving people to see you as a suspect versus as a person who’s being victimized by a government system that has shown complete overreach and direct intention of impacting someone who looks like me and other people who look like me, who come from certain communities.
I just wanted to give you, Shanta, a chance to speak to, can you share as somebody who was a staff attorney at Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice, and if you can talk about what you’ve seen in terms of how the family policing system is impacting the health and wellbeing of the mothers and families that you’d serve as an attorney.
Yeah, I think like the family and friends that Joyce described, when I was first introduced to the system, I was shocked. I thought if you had a case in family court and you were being accused of abuse or neglect, you must have done something terrible. And when I got there, I was a: overwhelmed by the fact that everyone pretty much was a minority. I was appointed by the court, so all of my clients were also low income. And that is reflective of the larger system.
And the kinds of things that my clients would be accused of and at risk of having their children removed or actually having their children removed really looked to me like poverty. And at that time I was a young attorney, I didn’t know about the larger systemic forces at play and the way that the system really worked. And I just, you know, one by one, looked through my docket and was really horrified that people were losing their kids because they didn’t have stable housing, they didn’t have child care, they didn’t have secure employment. And those don’t sound like good reasons to take someone’s children.
Let’s talk about the outcomes of foster care. What are the actual outcomes of foster care and why are they ignored in service to this larger narrative that CPS is a system of care?
Yeah, you know, I practiced in New York at the same organization that represented Joyce, but after Joyce was a client, Brooklyn Defender Services. And part of the law in New York requires courts to balance the harm of removal. What is gonna happen to this child if they’re taken from their family, if they’re moved, if they switch schools, all of those things? Balance that against whatever the perceived risk is by leaving the child at home.
So I sort of thought that everyone did that everywhere across the country. And when I left New York, I found out that wasn’t true and I was really flabbergasted. And it was at the same time that I was writing my first law review article and I decided to write about this issue. And the research is horrifying. And we are in court, in most courts across the country, talking about whether to remove a child and put them into foster care but the judge isn’t required to talk about or ask about what is gonna happen after this court appearance. We’re just talking about removing the child, but we’re not talking necessarily about where they’re gonna go or what that’s gonna look like for them.
And we’re definitely not talking about the statistics. And the statistics are very, very clear that kids, particularly ones who are at the margin of removal, which a lot of these cases are, fare better when you leave them with their parents or their other caregivers. And kids who end up in foster care have worse outcomes on basically every metric from juvenile system involvement to educational outcomes. They’re more likely to become teen parents. They’re also more likely to become parents who then have their children removed and continue this generational cycle. And they’re more likely to be impoverished. They’re less likely to have stable employment. They’re more likely to become unhoused as adults. So it’s not like we’re taking these kids and they are just thriving, and we don’t talk about that.
I am happy to report that since I wrote my article in 2019, more states have added this consideration of the harm of removal. So I think the list now is, New York and DC had it at the time that I wrote the article. But since then there’s Montana, Iowa, Washington state, and California is considering it right now. Forcing judges to really think about what the other side of this equation looks like.
And I also just wanted to talk about, you know, the fact that, you know, besides the foster care part of this, Most kids love their families. So it’s not just about where they go, it’s about what they’ve left. And for most kids, they feel intense grief and they mourn their parents like they’ve died. And they have a lot of confusion about their roles in these new foster families and what they’re supposed to do. They have confusion about, should I be loyal to my original family? My real family. Or should I be trying to fit in with this new temporary family?
And overall, it’s a very horrible experience for most kids. I don’t think that that’s a secret anymore. And I just wanted to say one more thing. I’m glad that we started with asking Joyce about her experience because Joyce particularly has really made us pay attention to the harms to parents in a way that we haven’t before. Joyce and other advocates like her. And that caused me to think about why? Why don’t we ever talk about what happens to these parents? And I started researching. I was doing a short piece on the harm of removal to parents. And there is very, very little research out there. But the research that does exist is extremely devastating.
And it really sort of confirms what Joyce said, that- it’s a very isolating experience because of this sort of stigma around family policing cases and this assumption that you are a bad parent. If you, if you lost your kids to the system, you did something wrong and that creates all sorts of shame and stigma. I can lead to, you know, if you’ve had a history of struggles with your mental health, it becomes worse. Of course. You’ve lost your child. People talk about the deep, deep depression that they’re in. They talk about if you’ve struggled with substance use disorder, it tends to become exacerbated when you’ve lost your children.
There are stories that I found in research where one mother said that she was so sad being in her house without her children that she made herself homeless because she could not bear to be in her own home without her children. And- it makes you think about why we don’t focus on this research or do more of it? I have some thoughts about that.
Why do y’all think we’re ignoring all of what you just talked about? Collectively, why are we ignoring this and still having to challenge this idea that CPS is a system of care?
I think, maybe cynically, that it’s because of who the parents in the system are. It’s the people that are others. They’re poor, they are Black, they are brown, they are immigrants, they may have substance use disorder, mental health concerns. They have disabilities. And it’s not the people who are politically powerful. They’re easily ignored. And there is this idea that some parents are just bad. We love to judge parents as a general matter, but man, do we love to judge these parents.
And it makes it a lot easier because people can then pat themselves on the back and say, well, we’re going to take these kids from these bad parents and put them into the foster system. And all that matters is that we took them away from the bad parents. But as we just talked about, it’s not like we’re actually doing something good. And to Joyce’s point, the idea that we can have an entire system that says that its goal is to protect children from harm and not be talking about the harms of removal in every single conversation in court where we’re contemplating removing a child is not a system that cares about protecting children.
Yes, that’s so important, because one of the things that we try to address in the podcast is that, you know, the “child welfare system” is viewed by the general public, by everyone as this helping system and this system that is designed to help children who were being who are experiencing maltreatment, who are being neglected or abused.
And as you said, with your own family, there were questions around, well, why would you be involved in this system and why would your children be taken away if you did not do something wrong? It speaks to this idea that this system is a benevolent system. The people who work within this system are also benevolent. And so there are all of these kinds of things that happen with surveillance, things that happen around punishment.
We’ve talked about how parents are expected to take parenting classes when the real need might be a housing issue or a food sustainability issue. We talk about these outcomes in foster care that really speak against this system being a helping system. Why do you think the experiences, like your experiences, are ignored in service to this larger narrative that CPS, that ACS, that the child welfare system, is a system of care.
I’m going to go start with that word ignored because I’m not sure if we’re ignored. I think people are hearing us now, but I don’t know that we were lifting up before the things that needed to be lifted up to change the narratives and educate the general public on what was really transpiring. Most people, like myself, were so traumatized that initially I didn’t choose to speak out. I just was happy to not be involved with this system once they supposedly stepped away. When they closed, quote unquote, closed my case after my children were returned two and a half years after initially being taken, I thought that was the end and that I would never have to deal with them again. It was a bad experience.
They continued to come back into my life, which due to work that I do today, I realize that the systems that we become involved in after having experiences with the child protection system as they like to call themselves, it’s made aware to other systems that we’ve had this previous involvement. So the heightened sense of needing to report. They scrutinized people like myself who had previous interactions even more highly than they do others, which caused repeated calls to CPS about me. Not only that, they weaponized the system and it’s very easy to weaponize it against someone who has already been found guilty in their world, of not being a good person and not being a good parent and not doing the best that you can do.
And so for me, it was the school system that made repeated calls because my children went to an all white school. So anything they did was, “problematic.” And they were asking me to do things like put my child in a special needs class. They were asking me to do mental evaluations, and when I would push back on these things, their answer each and every time was to call CPS.
The first thing that struck me when I started representing parents was that so many of my cases dealt with poverty. People not having the things they needed and then being accused of neglecting their children. And the thing is that the intervention would be to remove those children and put them into the foster system like we talked about. But then the intervention with the parents was to give them a list of things to do. You have to get a job. Easy enough, sure. You need to get stable housing. You need to be drug tested, even though there’s no allegations of drug use. You need to visit with your children twice a week. And probably you need therapy, too, because something’s got to be wrong with you, right? And it just creates this list of hoops.
Instead of saying, “hey, your child was left unattended while you ran out to buy milk, seems like you might need childcare.” Or “you’re staying in a place that has no heat and it’s pretty cold outside. That is not a great situation for your children or for you. Let’s help you to find somewhere that has heat. Let’s help you to find a place that is safe for you and your child, because that’s really the only thing that brought you in.” And instead, we have parents running around town on public transportation trying to meet all of these requirements on this made-up checklist. And those are the conditions that they need to meet to get their children back. Rather, and, on top of that, we’re spending money, paying other people to take care of these children who are strangers. When we could be taking that money and paying for housing and paying for childcare and paying for all of the things that really lead to a lot of the separations in the system.
I always think that the best example of how counterproductive the system is, is domestic violence cases, cases of intimate partner violence where you have someone, usually a woman statistically, calling to say, calling the police, “I need help,” or going to the hospital and saying “I have injuries.” And a mandated reporter calling CPS because they’re required by law to say that this child is at risk of harm because they are witnessing or exposed to intimate partner violence. But then they tell the mom, “if you don’t leave, if you don’t do this or that, we’re going to accuse you of failing to protect your child from the very violence that you are experiencing.” And yeah, it’s bad for them to witness violence. “So if you don’t do this, we’re going to remove them not just from his care, but from your care too.” So basically they’re saying, because you’ve had the bad luck to end up in a relationship where there is violence, we’re going to punish you by taking your child and we’re going to punish your child who is being removed from the parent that they feel safest with.
They’re inflicting harm not only on the parent, but also on the child who is being removed from the parent that they feel safest with. And the research is very, very clear that as bad as removal is, removal in a situation with intimate partner violence is even worse for children, because the only way that they can make sense of the violence is if they remain safe with the parent that has always been protective for them. And we don’t care. We just…that’s just our approach to everything. There’s an older article written called When in Doubt Take Them Out by Lynn Beller. It’s just, that is our approach to everything.
Thank you, Shanta. That is a great addition to what Joyce was saying to help us answer that question about interventions and essentially how we had to come to understand that the system just actually is not a helping system.
We hope you’re enjoying The upEND Podcast. A quick note: upEND is funded through the generosity of people like you who believe that ending the harm of the family policing system will help us to create a safer future. If you’re enjoying this podcast, we hope that you’ll consider donating to our work. Visit upendmovement.org/donate for more information.
I’d like for us to move into a conversation, Shanta, about family separations and policies and going back to the conversation that we were having where you talk about how there are just certain people that we do not value and respect that we discount the experiences of. And one of the questions that we have connects to this idea of like zero tolerance policies. We heard a lot about family separations in terms of zero tolerance policies at the border, right? But then, we had questions about, well, why is there not a similar understanding of these harms? Why is there not a zero tolerance policy for children separated from their parents due to family policing? Why is there a difference between what we saw at the border and what we see in New York City, for instance, every day?
Yeah, it’s such a good question. I was actually in the middle of writing the Harm of Removal article when that happened. And I was as struck as you were by this disconnect. I think a lot of people who work in family policing or the criminal system were sort of confused by this lack of empathy for their clients or for the people that they know who had lost their children to these other systems. Not that the empathy for the parents at the border was undeserved, of course not, but it just seemed so strange that people had such a strong reaction to what was happening at the border. And I think part of it is who these people were.
A lot of people framed the immigration crisis as people escaping these terrible conditions in their home countries and trying to protect their children by crossing the border into the United States to give them a better life. Obviously not everyone saw it that way, but a lot of people saw it that way. So there was something sort of, you know, these are good parents, even though the conditions are hard. Whereas if, again, if you’re in the criminal system or the family policing system, there’s this idea that you’ve done something wrong.
I was speaking to a legislator about this exact comparison. And I said, similarly to parents at the border, parents in family court lose their children every day. And she said, well, don’t you think it’s unfair to compare parents in family court who have abused or neglected their children to their families at the border. And I said, well, ma’am, I think your question presumes that everyone in family court has abused or neglected their children. And I think that that is the heart of the issue. We believe that if you’re there, you deserve to be there.
And I think the other big thing that caused this sort of outrage of family separation at the border was the fact that we could see it and we could hear it. And we do not see it. People do not see children being ripped from their parents in court. Because if you see it like I have, like Joyce has experienced, you will never forget it. And you will never look at the system the same way. And there are a lot of people who are fighting for open courts for family policing cases. And the reason that it’s closed is because it’s supposed to protect the privacy because it involves a juvenile.
And I think that is a big part of the problem because until I was in that courtroom, I had the same perception as everybody else, right? These parents must have done something terrible. But then once I got there and I met these parents who were doing everything they could to protect their children and to give them the best life that they possibly could under the most difficult of conditions. That changed my life forever because I could not understand how we were allowing this to happen every day.
Now you’re in the system. And now, if there are any services that you might need or any assistance that you might need, they’re going to tie those services for you into this surveillance and regulation.
Parenting classes. If you have too many objections, anger management classes. There are these impossible expectations that you’re supposed to meet. Families never get the resources that they need. And there are all of these interventions that on the outside, for somebody who doesn’t understand the way that this system works, seems helpful, right? Like, oh, parenting classes seem like it would be good for a parent who needs some help I guess in moving into parenthood or becoming better parents.
What we don’t often realize is that parenting classes might be assigned, as I said, because you are a domestic violence survivor and are trying to get your children into a safe space. I don’t know that parenting classes can help with that. Resources help with that. So there are these proposed interventions that seem helpful, but they’re undermined by the actions of the system. Do you want to talk a little bit more about how this system is not a helping system, how all of these interventions and “services” are set up to actually make things more difficult for families?
Yes. Because the services that they give does not fix the concrete need that families may have. And I say may because I didn’t have any concrete needs when they came into my life. This system is not a helping system because they simply don’t help even when there is a need. These parenting classes and other things are not adjacent to in any way the things that the family has come under surveillance for.
The child protection system, as they like to call themselves, is an industrial complex. And it’s important to understand that it’s an industrial complex and what that means, because industrial complexes eat up people like myself to fund themselves and to make themselves larger and bigger and more powerful when they provide or force people to take these classes that are not relevant to the needs of the family. Again, if they have any needs.
The only thing we’re doing is funding an industry. So they come into my life, say, as an example, which is not why they came in my life, because there is not enough food in the home. And then they say, you have to take a parenting class. Well, I could take ten parenting classes. It’s never going to fix the reason why you came into my home. But what it is going to do, it’s going to fund the industry of child protection services by bringing more funds into say, last year we had ten people who needed parenting classes. This year we have 50. Next year we project to have 100. We know it’s thousands and thousands and millions across the 50 states.
But just to be clear, every time someone takes one of these classes, the only thing we’re doing is funding an industry and empowering that industry to become more stronger and to have a larger ability to stomp people and families out through judgment, mischaracterization, misguidance and dishonesty.
One of the things that we talked about earlier, Joyce, or that you spoke of earlier, was issues around Miranda Rights. You said when you were first investigated by the child welfare system, you complied, but it was kind of an erroneous comply. You didn’t know that you could say no. I know that one of the things that you are working on as far as your activism and your advocacy work right now is around Miranda Rights for families. It’s so important. It’s such an important step in addressing the harms that are happening with the system. Why are Miranda Rights for families an important step?
Because it’s our constitutional right. That’s why. And right now, sign me up for anger management class, because when you push back, you need anger management. I’m pushing back on all of the elected officials who do not support Miranda Rights for families when CPS knocks on your door because it is a Fourth Amendment right. And I have meetings with these politicians, these elected officials, these people who are elected to serve the community. And they want me to shuck and jive and dance for them and to bring other people who are impacted to shuck and jive and dance and almost beg them to do what they’re responsible to do.
Even if we were not pushing for this piece of legislation, they are elected to ensure that laws are followed and to draft new legislation and things of that nature. And the Constitutional rights of the Fourth Amendment that denies government officials the ability to enter one’s home without a court order that was obtained after probable cause has been proven, says to me that elected officials either don’t know their responsibility or they are unwilling to take their responsibilities serious. And I think there’s so many things that go into that.
So I’m not going to go on a tangent, but what I will say is what I’ve learned through my work is the people who are elected officials are supporting, like the unions who push back, like the Administration for Children’s Services Union in New York that has pushed back. Anthony Wells’ union saying that children are not going to be safe and all of these lies that they’re telling. Aside from that, that can be their opinion, but the fact of the matter is, the first thing we have to deal with is what is in place and the Constitution is what’s in place. And we should all have to abide by the Constitution because the framework of any other legislation should fit within the framework of the Constitution.
If they have a problem with how the Constitution is written, abide by it and then work to change it and say, I’m changing this because I believe that children won’t be safe if we don’t change it. I will add a couple of numbers for you quickly. In New York City, ProPublica did an article stating that in New York City alone, the Administration for Children’s Services, which is our local CPS child welfare department, went to 56,000 homes in one year, and of that, 56,000 homes that they entered, they had a court on less than 200 times.
And so this is a stopping and frisking of people in their homes. It’s illegal search and seizure. It’s an abomination that they will allow this to continue to happen. Happening while asking me to shuck and jive and prove to them why we need Miranda Rights for families. We need it because it is the Constitution and anyone who doesn’t pass or works to prevent this legislation from being passed is simply saying to me, I’m redlining out certain communities because in white communities and communities where people are more financially affluent and they say, “no, you cannot enter my home” that no is accepted. And they either go to court, get a court order, or they just never visit their family again. Whereas in my community they are clearly stating you don’t have the right to invoke your Fourth Amendment rights and prevent us from coming into your home. If you do, we will weaponize the armed police force against you and utilize them to help us coerce you to let us in.
So even though the police know that they can not enter your home without a court order, just like CPS, they come to your home and threaten you. And I experienced that as well. But by this time I had begun understanding some of the things that was happening in the world of child welfare. And I didn’t give a fuck what the police said. I did not open my door. They told me they were going to break it down. I said then break it down, but I’m not opening it for you. You will work to get into this house. And so they didn’t work to get in. But people become really afraid when they say, if you don’t open a door, we’re going to break the door down. And once we break it down, we’re taking your children immediately.
And so it’s unfortunate that I had to have many interactions with them before I learned all that I did learn that gave me some ability to ward them off. But for most people they just don’t know. And the fear of having your door knocked down, the fear of having your children snatched immediately upon that door coming down is overwhelming. And therefore they open the door and attempt to reason with an agency that’s not reasonable.
Yes. Thank you Joyce.
Yeah, I wanna just pick up on this idea that the system is not about protecting kids because there are very few things more traumatic than having the police and CPS at your door, for a child. And they’re banging on the door, break in, and throw your mother on the ground, handcuff her and drag her out in front of you. And we know that has happened. It happened to Vanessa Peoples in Colorado. It’s happened to lots of parents. So if we actually cared about kids, we would never bring the police in to handcuff a parent, especially when they can see with their own eyes that the child is right there and fine. This is not an emergency.
There are a lot of different ways that we can handle that, such as the proper way by going to court, getting an order. And having the parent come to court with their attorney. But instead we do it in the most aggressive, forceful, traumatic way that we can. Every state across the country at this point, I think, parents are entitled to counsel. So when CPS is showing up at the door and interrogating parents, they are trying to get around the fact that once they go to court they will have counsel. And that is the point of a Miranda warning.
And for those people who don’t know what a Miranda warning is, it’s a thing you always see on TV, what you see on Law & Order. You have the right to remain silent, you have the right to an attorney. And in the case of a family policing case, it’s to understand what is happening, that you have a right to refuse them entering your home. Because this is a search and seizure these are Fourth Amendment protections.
You have a right to say, I will not be drug tested. You have a right to say, I’m not gonna answer any questions about my child. You have a right to say, I wanna know what the allegations are against me before I answer any questions. And I will only answer questions with respect to the allegations. Don’t go looking in my fridge if the allegation is that I hit my child. Don’t ask me for a drug test. And if they had an attorney, they would know all of these things. But even in cases where they’re gonna have an attorney in a couple hours, CPS goes to the door, tries to get all this information, writes it down, and that becomes part of the record. So it is highly intentional.
A lot of times when we talk about abolition, though, we do focus on what we want to tear down and we don’t focus enough on how we can go about building community support, building communities of care. One of the things that I love about your work is that while you are showing up as an advocate for families and fighting for justice for families, you also speak a lot about what it means to create and sustain community support. You’ve been known to say instead of mandated reporting, we need to create community support.
What does that look like? What does it look like to build these kinds of communities of care? What kind of resources will these communities be able to provide when they are well-resourced and sustainable?
The sky’s the limit. So I started this idea during the pandemic. A person called me from a shelter who I had worked with to get their child out of the foster system. And this person was living in a shelter and they only give out one set of sheets to people living in the shelter. And one of her neighbors in the shelter had a toddler child that she didn’t have pull-ups for. So that child wet the bed at night sometimes and the parent was unable to wash the sheets. So they were sleeping directly on the mattress. And during one of the shelter staff visits, they come around and check the units, they saw there was no sheet on the bed and said they were going to report the family to child protection services for neglect.
And so the parent, the person’s neighbor reached out to me and explained the situation. And I began partnering with a church in Queens to send me diapers and sheets and all of the other things that people in the shelter needed. So throughout the shutdown of the pandemic, from pretty much the onset until the end, I funded this shelter through, it was actually a synagogue. I apologize, not a church. Through the synagogue.
People from the synagogue was directly mailing to my home, Pampers, books, sheets, shampoo, hotspots. Because some parents were getting called because their children were not online but the shelter didn’t offer Wi-Fi to the families. So they were just sending all of the things that a family would need, including canned foods. And once a week I would take these items over to the shelter. I continued doing that work after the pandemic and we could go outside again. I partnered with a church in Brooklyn run by Reverend Rashad Moore, and we gave out like a thousand boxes of Pampers one Saturday. And since that time, I have created, in conjunction with the Episcopal St. Thomas Church in Brooklyn, located in Bushwick, where we’ve created what’s called the Closet.
And Professor John Robertson, who has been very supportive of my work from Columbia University, has helped to run that closet. And I visited that closet last week for the first time in a minute because Professor Robertson is there and I don’t need to be there regularly. And I was so amazed. I mean, he gives me two numbers every week. They are open two days a week from 10 to 3 on the corner of Cooper and Bushwick Avenue in Brooklyn. And when I got there it was like 50 people waiting to be serviced. And so they have gently used clothes, strollers, walkers for children, some Similac, tons of Pampers, baby wipes, and all of these other things.
Where can folks find you out online? You just kind of gave us some information out in the world so that they can learn more about what you’re doing and contribute to this fight, to this good fight that you are fighting, to this good trouble that you are making.
Let’s get into good trouble. Let’s get into some good trouble together. So you can find me by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you can hit me up on Twitter, Instagram or LinkedIn. And if you want to follow the organization for some of the places we’re going to be doing Know Your Rights and other things, the organization’s handle is JMAC_org.
I hope to hear from any of you and many of you who are listening today. I hope that you’ll support the work that we’re doing and the work that others are doing to change how families are impacted by the system that claims to help when the only thing they do is help to create stress and discord. And the only thing they’re protecting children from is success.
Don’t be a part of what it is they are doing. Be a part of the change that’s happening. People who want to abolish care about children probably more than others. Because we care that when we say we’re caring for them, that we’re actually doing so. The outcomes for children who are separated from their families by CPS shows any and everything but care for the children. So be a part of the change. Support JMACforFamilies, support work that’s supporting children and families.
I’d like for you Shanta to tell us where folks can find you out, online or out in the world so that they can learn more about the work that you’re doing.
Mine’s very easy. I’m @ShantaTrivedi on Twitter or you can look me up at the University of Baltimore School of Law for my faculty profile that lists all of my publications and what I’m up to these days. Thanks, Josie.
Well, thank you both. And that’s it for this episode. So please check our show notes for links and additional resources.
Thank you for joining us for the upEND podcast as we explore family policing system abolition. To learn more about upEND and our work to strengthen families and communities, visit our website at upendmovement.org and follow us on Twitter and Instagram at @upendmovement.