The upEND team recaps Season One and shares their visions for a future without family policing.


We break down recurring myths about “child welfare,” discuss the abolitionist communities growing from spaces such as book clubs, and reflect on topics like the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA).

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About Our Guests: 

Maya Pendleton has been a part of the upEND movement since its inception. She currently works as a researcher and writer for the upEND movement, focusing on how we abolish the family policing system, the harms of the current system to children, families and communities, and the world we will build post family policing. 

Alan Dettlaff is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, where he also served as Dean from 2015 to 2022. Alan began his career as a social worker in the family policing system, where he worked as an investigative caseworker and administrator. Today his work focuses on ending the harm that results from this system. In 2020, he helped to create and launch the upEND Movement, a collaborative effort dedicated to abolishing the family policing system and building alternatives that focus on healing and liberation.

Episode Notes:



Hosts: Josie Pickens & Jaison Oliver

Producer: Sydnie Mares

Editor: Imani Crosby



Jaison Oliver

Coming up this episode on The upEND Podcast. 


Alan Dettlaff 

The myth of benevolence that has been talked about on this podcast multiple times is the most powerful tool that the family policing system uses to its advantage, the myth that the system is helping children in need, the myth that this system has to take children away from their parents because their parents are so horrible and not providing what they need, the myth that when children are placed in a foster home that they’re placed in loving, safe environments. None of those things are true.

Maya Pendleton

I think something that capitalism takes from us so often is our time and our ability just to be, to be a human and to do the things that fill our souls with joy. And so I view an abolitionist world as a world where

Yeah, people do labor, but our labor is, you know, because people have to eat. Like we’re building houses, like we’re doing things that are labor-some because we need them, because they’re fulfilling a function in this world and we’re giving back. We’re not laboring so that we can accumulate resources and use them for bad things. 


Various Voices

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.


Jaison Oliver

53% of Black children will be investigated by the child welfare system by the time they turn 18.


Josie Pickens

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?


Jaison Oliver

We know the answer is no. Absolutely not.


Josie Pickens

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.


Jaison Oliver

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.


Josie Pickens

We’re your hosts. I’m Josie Pickens. 


Jaison Oliver

And I’m Jaison Oliver. Let’s get started. 


Jaison Oliver

Welcome back to The upEND Podcast. In this episode, we’ll be discussing this phenomenal first season of the podcast, our imagined communities without family policing and how we can do abolition work and live abolition now. We are so glad to have two friends of the podcast with us to close out the season.


Josie Pickens 

There you go. So we have two returning guests today. I’m sorry. Hold on a second. Let me clear my throat. I’m getting over bronchitis, so my talking and speaking is not the best right now. Hold on one second.


Josie Pickens 

Okay, we have two guests returning today. Alan Dettlaff and Maya Pendleton. Alan is a professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, where he also served as dean from 2015 to 2022. Alan began his career as a social worker in the family policing system, where he worked as an investigative caseworker and administrator. Today, his work focuses on ending the harm that results from this system.

In 2020, he helped to create and launch the upEND Movement, a collaborative effort dedicated to abolishing the family policing system and building alternatives that focus on healing and liberation, which we’ll be talking a lot about today. 

We also have here with us Maya Pendleton. Maya has been a part of the upEND Movement since its inception. She currently works as a researcher and writer for the upEND Movement, focusing on how we abolish the family policing system, the harms of the current system to children, families and communities, and the world we build post-family policing. So welcome back, Alan and Maya.


Maya Pendleton

Thanks for having me.


Alan Dettlaff 

Thanks, happy to be here.


Jaison Oliver 

So let’s start off with some background. You all both joined us in earlier episodes, but we want to ground this conversation and where we are today. Can you talk about how conversations about abolition are happening around you in this moment? Maya, go ahead and start for us.


Maya Pendleton

Yeah, I think that conversations about abolition are happening everywhere, all at once. I think that I would say over the past three-ish years, with sort of like 2020 almost being like an inception point, that people really started bringing abolition into the larger public conversations, that people are really wrestling with what it looks like to be an abolitionist, what it looks like to build an abolitionist future and how we get there. I would say some of the most warming things that have come from these conversations are thinking about what does it look like when communities have everything that they need? How do we end reliance on the criminal legal system, including the prison system, policing, obviously the family policing system?

What does the world look like that we want to build? So I’m excited to talk a little bit more about those things with you guys today.


Alan Dettlaff 

Yeah, I definitely think 2020 was a tipping point for the abolition movement and conversations about abolition. When I think of the conversations happening related to the up and movement and abolition of the family policing system, which four or five years ago weren’t discussed at all in any spaces, at least that I was in. Now they’re pretty mainstream conversations. You know, all of us, we get invited to speak about family policing, abolition to schools of social work, to classes, to conferences. People are really interested in learning more about this information. 

And I think we’ve just, the news stories about it, you know, when the abolition movement is on CBS Sunday morning, NBC Nightly News, you know that something has shifted, that there’s an interest in having these conversations. 

And you know, I taught this last semester, fall 2023, and it was the first time I had taught in probably 10 years. And it was an introduction policy class for first year MSW students. And all they wanted to talk about was abolition. Every solution to a policy problem wasn’t about increasing the safety net, which is kind of typically what you talk about in those kinds of classes. It was about why the safety net is a problem, why we even have to have a safety net. So every conversation we had in that class went back to the future we’re really trying to create, which is an abolitionist future where people have what they need. People have what they need to live. We’re not dependent on this thing called money to eat, to have housing. And so it was really energizing just to see how many students were hungry for this information.


Josie Pickens 

Thank you both for that. I think as abolitionists, as we’re talking about moving forward and how this movement is progressing, we also have to sit with some of the challenges that come to us being abolitionists. Sometimes we find it difficult, for instance, to hold abolition as the creation of life sustaining systems while also acknowledging that reforms don’t work, right?

And I think the way that we bridge this gap in our thinking is by contemplating experimentation. This season on The upEND Podcast, our guests have given us some ideas about experiments that may move us forward. So I wanted to ask you to offer some ideas about some of the things that we’ve discussed, some of these topics.

For instance, community control of budgets and resources, what data protections look like, family Miranda and mandated supporting, what that looks like, and how these things connect to family policing abolition. So, Alan, if you’d like to start maybe with speaking about community control of budgets and resources and why that’s an important part of this abolitionist future that we’re dreaming and building.


Alan Dettlaff

Yeah, I think this conversation about talking about experimenting, talking about practical things that we can do to move towards abolition of the family police is really important because often we get stuck in how big of a project abolition really is to the point where it could just seem paralyzing.

What are we going to do, how are we going to do? All of the what about, what about this, what about that question, and it just stops us from doing anything. So I think it’s important to really talk about the really practical things that can be done. And many of those things fall into the category of reforms, which are done in ways that actually just reaffirm the necessity of the system. Maya and I talk about this a lot in the chapter in my book that we co-wrote about reforms. But there are reforms that we can make that really do move towards abolition of family policing. And I think those are the kind of things that we need to focus on. Community control of budget is a big one because


One of the main questions that we get in this movement is if there’s not a family policing system, what will happen to children who are abused? And it’s a really hard question to tackle because when we say we want what and what we usually say to that is that we want communities, we want to shift power to communities and for communities to have more say and control about what should happen when a child is in need of protection. 

But it’s really hard to imagine that right now because of how ravaged communities have become over time on purpose by intentional government withholding of resources to those communities. So when people try to think, well, how is a community going to do that? What we’re really talking about is the community that we’re working on building, the community that has the resources that they need to safely and securely take care of their children in their homes and their communities. And that has to do with shifting resources.

Shifting resources away from harmful, racist, powerful systems and shifting those resources to communities. So when a family is in need of some type of assistance, there’s a community system that can provide aid to that family. And the community has all of the resources at its disposal to provide whatever that assistance looks like. The community, those families aren’t dependent on government systems. So it’s about communities deciding where money should go, where money should be directed, not the government deciding who and where and what kind of resources should be provided.


Josie Pickens

Thank you, Alan. And I’d love to tag Jaison in to kind of answer this question on a local level. Jason does a lot of work here in the city of Houston around city budgets and getting people together to discuss city budgets and how that money is being spent and how those funds can like be better spent investing in communities. Do you have anything to add around community control of resources and budget?


Jaison Oliver

Yeah, I think this comes up so much. I was just in a conversation this morning talking about a need for more resources in supporting the arts and arts and culture in Houston. And one of the issues that consistently comes up is like, who has the knowledge, who has the capacity to like, to do this stuff? That often comes up when we’re talking about budgets, especially when we’re looking at things like a city budget where you’re looking at five, six, seven billion dollars. 

Like I don’t know what to do with a billion dollars. I got little, I don’t know what to do with a million dollars. Like I have some ideas, but you know, it’s confusing to kind of think at this scale because it’s so separated so far, like removed from our daily lives that we don’t really have clear ideas about how these programs would work.


And so that puts huge limitations on how we can dream and how we can like imagine what we do with this. Cause we can’t conceptualize it. So really helping to prepare people to take ownership of like, of these resources at scale and not just, you know, $10,000. Like we’re not chasing after $20,000. That’s not gonna… You can’t live off of that for a year, right? I mean, people do, but they, like not where we are now, that’s not how people should be living. So we shouldn’t be forcing people to run after $20,000. 

Like how are we forcing a change in the ways that like millions, tens of millions of dollars are being distributed cause that changes, that’s the scale we start to change how neighborhoods are constructed, right? Like whether all the children in the city have access to food, all the families have access to food and care, right? Like all the people in the jails that we call a space for mental health, like the biggest mental health facility, when it’s really just a warehouse, like all of those people actually have beds to sleep in or have access to the care that they need. 

So that’s the kind of scale that we really have to work with people to think about. And I’m really glad that, even though it only came up for a moment in our first episode, that we really talked about, really thinking about participatory budgeting and this knowledge and consciousness raising as such an important part of it.


Josie Pickens 

Thanks, Jaison. 

Maya, I have a question for you around like data protections and the importance of data protections. I know this is something that Victoria and Brianna discussed in a previous episode. Can you talk about why that’s an important part of this work that we’re doing around family policing abolition?


Maya Pendleton

Yeah, I love the conversation about participatory budgeting and like what that brings about. And I think this is also super related because a lot of local budgets go towards practices that share data with in carceral systems, right? 

So all of these carceral systems, if we think of them as being connected together, we have the family policing system, which is sharing data with juvenile justice system, which is sharing data with the courts, which is sharing data, and so forth, and so forth. So people think that they might be going to get a service and they’re just talking to a caseworker, getting some food, getting what they need. They don’t know that all this is being recorded and collected as data and is being used against them and is being shared throughout these systems. 

So when we think about having control over our data, and having more ownership over our data, that means that we’re taking powers from these systems that are able to collect data on us and decide who goes where, who’s at risk for a certain crime or who’s at risk to abuse their children, and we’re able to use our data for our benefit. 

I was having a conversation with Victoria, who was mentioned earlier, talking last week about what would it look like to use data as reparations. Like if the city is using our data to do all these harmful things does that mean that the state now owes us reparations because of the misuse of our data. And so I think thinking about where our data is going and how it’s being used against us really opens up avenues not only for control but also for us to make cases against the state and their power.


Jaison Oliver 

Yeah, how do we make this right? 

This is also bringing me back to the conversation about mandated supporting and how are we using this data? Because it’s definitely being collected. We have access to it. We should be thinking about enabling new ways to use this information to our benefit and not just as ways of creating new systems of harm and control. So yeah, I really appreciate that.


Josie Pickens 

Anything to add, Alan?


Alan Dettlaff 

You know, I think the if people haven’t listened to the episode with Victoria and Brianna, I think Victoria particularly, this is an area that she’s studied for years and is probably one of the most brilliant abolitionist thinkers I’ve had the honor to be involved with. 

And I think what’s important about the way she describes the family policing system is that it’s much bigger than just the actual child welfare system itself. It’s this entire web of systems, agencies, organizations that are working in collaboration with the actual family policing agencies to ensure that these reports continue to come in, that all of this data is collected and that it’s weaponized against families. The data is collected for the purpose of using it against families.

And I think what’s really harmful about how this data is collected is how it’s being used now in a predictive way. Agencies are using predictive analytics or they’re using this information collected from all of these systems to try to guess basically who’s at most risk for abusing their children or who’s going to abuse their child. Based on faulty, often racist, data that’s collected in the first place. 

And all of that data is being used to make huge consequential decisions in the lives of families up to and including forcible family separation, termination of parental rights, all because of these vast networks of data sharing agreements. So when we talk about practical strategies to end, to shrink, to move towards ending the family policing system, one practical way is to talk about or limiting these data sharing agreements and limiting the opportunities because of privacy reasons for this data to be, one, collected without people’s knowledge, which is how most of the data is collected, and then two, shared across this entire carceral web of agencies and systems.


Jaison Oliver

This is making me think about episode six with Maya and Dylan Rodriguez actually, where one of the things that Dylan kept bringing up is this idea of asymmetrical domestic warfare and really using that terminology to highlight the scale and scope of just how dire what’s taking place is for families that are dealing with these systems. 

When we’re thinking about data, on one hand we have everybody’s information that’s being just collected with no kind of consent, you’re not opting in, you’re not given a choice. And yet if you want to share information with somebody or you’re trying to get access to your own information, you can’t do it, right? Like the like power imbalance, right? 

That’s like asymmetrical power imbalance is so clearly shown in terms of, in this like data example of, you know, even people trying to get access to their parents or their children, right? And finding out where they are, who they’re with, anything like that, let alone access to information about how they can access care or access certain services, who’s the person to, that I can actually go to get real answers to the problems that I’m facing. 

I think Dorothy Roberts brought us some other language to think about how the system, like terms like dually-involved or crossover youth, these terms that really show us and create a greater awareness of how family policing harms children and families just like the criminal legal system, right? You’re not calling them dually-involved for good reason, right? That’s not a positive label that we’re putting on people, right? So it’s obvious that both of these are incredibly harmful. 

I think Shanta and Joyce also discussed the hiding behind closed doors, and we’re saying that we are to protect children, these cases against families are happening behind closed doors and they can’t get access to attorneys or you can’t get access to real information. And that’s such a hard aspect to get beyond because it hides the real challenges that families are facing here. How do we bring this war into the light?

How do we actually make this top of mind? I mean, Alan, you mentioned that this is already starting to happen, but how do we really bring this to the light?


Alan Dettlaff 

You know, I think that’s probably the most important question that we have to answer as abolitionists in this movement and continually think about every day because the myth of benevolence that has been talked about on this podcast multiple times is the most powerful tool that the family policing system uses to its advantage, the myth that the system is helping children in need, the myth that this system has to take children away from their parents because their parents are so horrible and not providing what they need, the myth that when children are placed in a foster home that they’re placed in loving, safe environments. None of those things are true, but that’s what maintains the family policing system’s ability to keep interfering in the lives of families. 

So it really starts just by shattering that myth by many of the things that we talk about all the time, making sure people understand that up to 70% of children in foster care are in foster care because of poverty-related reasons. Making sure people really understand and connect the dots between the harm caused by family separations and the harm that happens when children are forcibly taken away from their parents by the family policing system.

The idea of asymmetrical warfare that Dylan brought up is a really useful term to understand the system. He talked about it in a way in that it’s asymmetrical because there’s only one side that is harmed in this war. But it also has to do with the asymmetrical resources that the system has, the asymmetrical ways in which the system has to punish families versus the resources that the families have to help themselves. 

And a good idea that you are a good example of that is legal representation, which you mentioned. When children are separated from their parents, they have no access to an attorney, no rights at all. They have to show up in court, usually within a couple of weeks, it varies by state, but usually within a couple of weeks. And they’re assigned an attorney because most parents are living in poverty, they’re labeled as indigent, and they’re assigned an attorney by the court. 

When I was practicing in Texas, the attorneys who were on that list were all attorneys who were brand new out of law school. And this was a side hustle for them. This was a way for them to make a little bit of extra money while they were trying to get the big dollars, finding jobs in a law firm. Some of them may not have even been experts in family law, but they were assigned to these families, and I saw many instances where these assigned appointed attorneys would meet and talk to the family for the first time, 30 minutes before their court hearing. So compare that attorney, then in court going up against the state attorney who has decades of experience with these cases and has been working in this field, studying this field for years and years. That’s asymmetrical…


Jaison Oliver 

Who’s friends with the judge.


Alan Dettlaff 

Exactly, exactly. That’s asymmetrical. That’s a David and Goliath kind of situation. And that’s what reinforces all of the harm that happens to families because the state is empowered with so many weapons. When we talk about asymmetrical warfare, that families just have families have access to nothing to defend themselves.


Maya Pendleton

I love that point and it reminds me of Joyce talking about the police basically banging on the door and how, you know, the case workers come to your home and they say, let us in. And if that doesn’t go well, then they use the armed forces to, you know, get in your home, threaten families and say, if you don’t let us in, we’re going to knock down this store and take your kids away.

And those threats, again, those like power imbalances, and those threats make a lot of people sort of say, okay, like come in, that fear, I don’t want my kids taken away. So I’ll do whatever you say. And it just reminds me how the state, like you’re saying, has so many weapons. It’s like, and how all these systems are really connected. It’s not just the social workers, it’s the policemen and women. And it’s all these people who are, you know, weaponized against families who literally have very few resources to fight one of the most traumatic things that can happen to have your family separated. And there’s little recourse. 

And so I think part of Miranda rights, which is having parents know that they don’t have to let people into their homes, which is based on a constitutional right, these things are aimed at trying to chip away at that state power and trying to think of ways that we as people, as communities can say, stand up and say, like, you don’t have this power against me, you cannot exercise it. 

And I think part of our work as abolitionists is to think about how do we basically like make war with the state in ways that they can no longer fight us and take our kids away? And how do we exercise autonomy? And what does that look like?


Alan Dettlaff 

That issue of knowing your rights is so important too, particularly related to the idea you brought up, Maya, about caseworkers entering people’s homes. There’s been a lot of discussion lately about whether that’s a violation of the Fourth Amendment. But the way that the system approaches this, and I know this because I did it, I did this for years doing what the system calls these “investigations”. Families don’t know that they can say no to anything. But even more than that, the weapon that the system has is the fear that everyone has about having their children taken away from them, which is a very real and legitimate fear. 

You know, Dorothy Roberts talks about in going back to Shattered Bonds and some of her work there, how in some poor Black communities, every single person in that community is either involved with the system or knows someone whose child has been taken away. So this fear is astronomical. And then what happens is and I could use myself as an example, I would go to a home and say, I need to come in and look around. And they would say, okay. And they would open the door because, and that’s, the system will say that’s giving consent. It wasn’t a forced entry, but they don’t know that they can say no and they’re terrified. And that’s the kind of weapon that the system, the system knows that families are terrified. They’ve also been

As laws have been proposed related to providing Miranda warnings in various states, the states have vehemently opposed those laws. So that’s really telling about the system and how much they know about the weapons that they have at their disposal. And the biggest weapon is that parents don’t know what their rights are, and the state is fighting to keep it that way.


Josie Pickens

That episode with Joyce and Shanta was one of my favorites, you know, mostly because hearing from Joyce and her own personal experiences, I think it’s always heartening and invigorating for organizers and abolitionists to listen to the experiences of those who have been impacted by the system. 

I think in that episode, there is conversation around family Miranda and also around mandated reporting, which ties in this idea that we have when we’re talking about reforms that are reformist versus abolitionist steps. So this work that Joyce and others are doing to ensure that families understand their rights to say no. And the work that many organizers are doing around what Joyce has coined, mandated supporting instead of mandated reporting are both ways that we can push back against this system and that we can do it actively now. 

Like the work around Family Miranda and also the work around figuring out how we can pull together resources in community to help families to keep them out of these systems so that they don’t end up “oh, I need access to food or I need access to housing and now I’m caught up in this system that some families never escape”, right? 

Some families lose their children and lose their parental rights and it just goes on and on and on for them. So I think that those are two good examples of ways that we are fighting kind of quote unquote within the system and also fighting in community to avoid the system that I think is important.




Josie Pickens

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 for more information.



Josie Pickens

When we’re thinking about Family First, this is, um, something that Victoria talked about in episode four of the podcast. What should we be looking forward to or looking out for as we talk about Families First? 


Maya Pendleton

Well, I will say as someone who unfortunately did a lot of work around family, the Family First Prevention Services Act, the full name that was signed into law, I think in like 2018, I don’t remember exactly, around then, the idea was that quote unquote “prevention services” through this bill would keep families at risk of having children entering into foster care —all this policy jargon basically—at risk of entering into foster care would keep them out of the system through providing prevention services administered by either the family policing system or basically approved title IV-E service providers. 

So these are people that are flagged as at risk. That “flag as at risk” was left up to the states to decide, like what is “risk” in your state? 

And they would put families on a prevention services plan. And so I think for a lot of people doing work in this area, a lot of advocates, this sounded really good on its head, right, like, okay, we have all these prevention services, there’s gonna be parenting classes, there’s gonna be substance use classes, there’s gonna be programs for teenagers that parents are struggling with, whatever, and it sounded great until you sort of like unveil it a little bit. And you start to think to yourself, well, how would bringing additional families to the attention of the family policing agency like be a helpful thing if this is the same agency that’s tearing families apart?

And then you think about, again, all of the data that’s being collected on families because they’re being put on a prevention plan and because now they have contact with all of these caseworkers who are also getting funding, this Title IV-E funding, which is attributed to so many family separations. So I think this Family First is a really good example of how, like we said, there can be reformist reforms or there can be actions or steps that take us closer to abolition.

There are also reforms that give power back to the system. And Family First is really one that, again, sounds great, but if you look at it, it’s giving all of this power, all this money, all this funding, directly back into the very system that we’re trying to get rid of. 

And presumably, causing more families to get caught up in the family policing system, because after a while, if something happens on these case plans, then a real case is open. And so it’s sort of like a bait and switch. It’s like, “No, no, we’ll help you. But if something goes wrong, like we’re going to open a case on you. And if separation is necessary, we have the power to do so.”

I think another important thing, the logic of these prevention services bills that are coming from the states say that “we’re the only ones that can help you, right? Only our programs, only our approved programs are good, and those are the only ones that can help you. Oh, you have a church that you like to go to? That’s not a services that’s approved. That’s not where you can go seek help.” 

So not only is it funneling more money back to the state, bringing families to the attention of the child welfare system, but it’s also inspiring this sort of dialogue that families need to be watched. They need to be watched by these case providers and that they are not autonomous enough to decide where they can get help from, where they need support from, the services that they want to choose. 

So, you know, Families First, it’s a funny name because it’s obviously not putting families first. But I think it’s a really good example to learn from about things that like we should or should not support and how, you know, the system really tries to trick us because we are people who wanna see good things happen, but they will try to trick you and think that, you know, of course they can fix themselves, but we have to know that the system cannot fix itself.


Alan Dettlaff 

The important thing to think about or to understand when we’re talking about Families First is just to acknowledge that Families First is an absolute joke. It’s a sham developed by the system for the purpose of fooling legislators and the public into thinking that they were really going to focus on prevention. Because when you really think about what the money that can be redirected. So what Families First does, it allows this money to be redirected from foster care services to prevention. 

But only three kinds of prevention services are allowed, substance abuse treatment, mental health treatment, and parenting classes. Those aren’t the reasons why most families come to the attention of the system. It’s because of actual concrete resources, because of a need for housing, a need for daycare, a need for food, and Families First does nothing to provide those things. 

So what it really does by focusing only on mental health, substance abuse, or parenting is it reinforces the idea that it’s the parents’ problem. Parents are pathologized and they need treatment. They need treatment for their substance use, they need treatment for their mental health problems, they need to be better parents, without any acknowledgement that any kind of services that they have related to those things are caused by much larger issues poverty, oppression, racism in society. And Families First does absolutely nothing to address those things. 

Families First is basically a behavior modification program rather than an anti-poverty program, which is what we really need to prevent involvement. And I remember I was listening back to the episode that Victoria and Bre did when they talked about Families First. And I wrote down what Victoria said, which I think is the easiest way to understand Families First, as she said, “Does this policy help solve the housing crisis that lands people in the system? No. Does it fundamentally change the definitions of neglect that funnel people into the system? No. Does it shrink the system? No.” Those are the things that we need to understand about Families First.


Maya Pendleton

I’ll also add that any youth who is pregnant or parenting already in foster care, their children are already flagged as an imminent risk for foster care or removal. So why would we give more money, more resources to a system that is flagging people within the system as at risk? It’s almost like they tell themselves and they expect us not to notice.


Jaison Oliver 

You are the risk factor.


Maya Pendleton

Right, like you’re the risk factor. Being involved with us is a risk of bad things happening. That doesn’t make sense.


Jaison Oliver 

Yeah, yeah, this makes me think of Maya Shenwar and Victoria Law’s book, Prison by Any Other Name, where, I mean, they talk about family policing, but also another law that passed also in 2018 after Family First was the First Step Act, which was supposed to be about reentry, right? 

We know that this is a big issue, people coming out of the system and needing to be allowed back into society. It’s like, well, this actually isn’t a first step work taking. Like this is not the step toward the society that we need, although we all know that reentry is completely necessary. Now that we’re kind of in the policy space, I’m thinking about the episode on repealing CAPTA. And we talked about the unintended abolition during the pandemic.

And that really being a possibility model for foster care funding and family policing system, family policing as a system, gradually shifting toward community run alternatives. I’m curious about other experiments that you all have seen happen, whether intentionally or not. Who’s carrying on that work of really experimenting in the ways that that we really need to see? Even if it may not work out right, like it doesn’t exactly work out in the ways that we wished it would.


Maya Pendleton

You know, the pandemic was a great example of what it looks like when one, people get government resources. So we had really important things like the stimulus payments happen. We had the expanded child tax credits happen. You know, I can’t remember the exact numbers, but people will cite numbers. Millions of children lifted out of poverty. Yes, because they like had money. And you saw…


Jaison Oliver 

And then throw them right back in.


Maya Pendleton

Exactly. So we saw all these things and also we saw the end of those home visits because people were scared of COVID and limiting sort of the family policing system’s power to come into families’ lives. And so all these articles written about how bad it would be and how like so many children would be harmed because they were, you know, with their parents unsupervised that had never happened before.

And the opposite happened, you know, families ended up thriving. They ended up being better off without the system involvement. They ended up having the resources that they needed because they were actually given practical things like money that we know helps people. So that was not an unintentional experiment about what it would look like if there wasn’t a family policing system.

But I think also that this happens like everywhere, right? So there are many times where a family is lucky enough not to come into the contact of the family policing system and they might be either having trouble at home, parenting teens is not easy. So they might be having trouble parenting their teenager or they might be having trouble getting food and groceries on the tables. And there are collectives all over the country that support families, and just people, during these hard times. So whether that’s delivering groceries, whether that’s helping people get their lights turned back on, making their utility payments, whether that’s sitting down with the family and saying, “OK, y’all are not getting along right now. Is there someone that your child can go stay with for a week or two while y’all get a little bit of space and figure this out?” 

So this happens all the time. And I think it just proves to us that we don’t need this system. I think we already know that. But I think there’s a lot of skeptics who think, well, there’s always the what about questions. And the truth is, is that people are better off when there is no system, when they have the resources that they need, and also when they are able to come up with their own solutions. 

Like I think that carceral ideology tells us that people need to be controlled and they need to be watched. And that’s just not true. People do better when they’re allowed to make their own decisions and decide what works for their communities. And that looks different for everyone. 

And I think that’s like the freedom that we’re working for is that everybody sort of gets to decide what works for them and there’s no one size fit all. I think right now we have a one size fit all solution, which is why it doesn’t work, right? So you have someone experiencing domestic violence and they’re referred to parenting class and like, it’s not helpful because they’re not a bad parent and they need safety. 

And so I think that, you know when we have these instances where we’re able to remove the system from the equation, a lot of really beautiful, helpful things are able to happen.


Alan Dettlaff 

Yeah, I think COVID is a really good example of what I think Anna Arons called it an unintended abolition, where we saw surveillance family policing intervention drastically reduced. And then there was all this fear mongering about what would happen to all of these children when they’re not being surveilled. And it turns out that rates of maltreatment didn’t go up at all during the pandemic. 

But I think it’s also important to acknowledge that there’s another naturally occurring experiment that has been happening is happening all around us. If you want to know what a society looks like without a family policing system, just look at what happens in rich white communities. There is no family policing presence there. They abuse their kids, they use substances, they have mental health problems, they have all kinds of challenges, and the family policing system does not intervene at all in those communities and those families have access to the resources that they need. 

If they’re struggling to meet the needs or to manage their children’s behaviors, their teenage children’s behaviors, they can go to therapy, they can get a nanny, they can they have everything they need to address whatever is happening in their homes that is creating some challenges that may be resulting in potential risk for their children.

So there’s this naturally occurring experiment ongoing all the time where the same issues are happening in families, but there’s actually no family policing presence there.


Josie Pickens

I think that’s such a good point. It’s the answer that I give when people ask about abolition and those “what about” questions. I’m like, we know what abolition looks like. I think that’s so important to name that. When we’re looking at often white, well-resourced communities, we know that a lot of the answers that we’re looking for are already there. It’s just about who we believe deserves that kind of care and who we don’t believe deserves that kind of care.

So I want to talk a bit about the dreaming aspect, or let’s move into talking about dreaming about abolitionist futures, what that visioning looks like. Part of that process, I think, is building knowledge around abolition. 

So this year, upEND Movement created two book clubs. One was a private book club among the upEND team, and then one is a public book club Towards Liberation. So Maya, you, Alan, and another founding member of upEND connease, have been choosing books that center knowledge building around this abolitionist future that we keep talking about. Why is this kind of knowledge building important?

And are there any connections that you’ve made through the book club that has made, that has helped you with your abolitionist thinking and visioning?


Maya Pendleton

Yeah, I can go. I’ll just say that I think that even as we call ourselves abolitionists and we have all these ideas, we always have to study and remind ourselves that we’re constantly students of movements, we’re constantly students of abolition, and we’re also constantly students of the people that have come before us. I think that especially in the family policing world, it’s a very segmented portion of abolition. 

So there’s PIC prison abolitionists, and there’s border abolitionists, but maybe there’s not like this cohesiveness between the movements. But I think that when we are able to study works that are centering abolitionist movement, we actually are able to build these bridges much more easily between these different systems than we are if we were to stay isolated in our own corners, just calling ourselves family policing abolitionists. 

I also think that so many of these things have been done before, and there’s so much that we can learn and glean from studying what people have done before us and the connections that people have made between child welfare abolition, prison abolition, border abolition, imperialism, global struggles, like there’s all these connections that we’re able to make if we are able to study abolitionist learning. 

So I think for me, what I’ve learned most from studying and reading in community is that one, you need community to do anything. So a lot of these works are super complicated. And it’s so nice to have a community to be able to say, did you get that? Cause I did it and be able to, you know, bounce back things off of each other. And, you know, it’s inadvertently teaching us the power of community as we’re building something new. But also I’ve been able to think about like, where the past failures and successes of old movements, looking at things like how the Black Panthers provided people with things and made organizing a very tangible thing, the idea that if you’re gonna organize, you have to give people something that they need. And so I think that there’s just so many lessons that we can take with us as we work towards the world we wanna build.


Jaison Oliver 

I want to just give a shout out to fiction too, because for all of this work, nonfiction gets a lot of buzz. But there is fiction work that is really helping us to think about both the harms and the possibilities of the potential, positively and negatively, of what we’re trying to build, right? So I’m thinking about The School for Good Mothers as a great read that we had this year.


Maya Pendleton

So good, I think about that book all the time.


Alan Dettlaff

Toward Liberation is a book club that connease Warren and I started. connease was one of the founding members of the upEND movement. And we started this out of the process of writing my book when I was doing a lot of research about the early abolition movement and learned that it was the written word which was probably the only means of mass dissemination in the 1800s, that it was the written word and stories about children being separated from their mothers, children torn out of their mother’s arms at auction blocks and at public sales. 

It was those stories about the harm and trauma related to those separations that brought mostly white northerners on board to the abolition movement. Understanding the horror of family separation through that means of storytelling. So Toward Liberation is a book club that’s designed to look at how the written word has been used over time to fuel abolitionist movements. 

And I think, you know, what Maya mentioned is so important, recognizing how deep a history abolition has. Abolition is really I think of abolition as a theory of change that has literally centuries of activity, movement, writing, thinking, study behind it. 

And when I, so when I think about what we’re trying to do with the Toward Liberation book club, with the upEND book club, and just our knowledge is really focusing on what I think the abolition movement is ultimately built on, which is the idea of abolition democracy, which is a term coined by W.E.B. Du Bois and then later expanded by Angela Davis. But it’s the idea that the goal of the original abolition movement during the eighteen hundreds was never achieved. The goal of abolition was never just ending slavery. Ending slavery was something that needed to happen to achieve the goal.

But the goal was real liberation. So Du Bois talked about how what happened during the abolition movement was only the negative aspect of abolition, where the harmful racist system of slavery was ended, but the positive aspects of abolition that were always intended, new structures, new relations, new political systems to fully incorporate the formerly enslaved into society with full equality.

That did not happen following slavery and it still hasn’t happened to this day. So abolition is really an unfulfilled promise, a dream deferred, if you will. We’re still working on those same goals today. And I think that’s what we as abolitionists really need to understand because I think that’s where the hope comes from. That there has been centuries of people working on this before us and we’re continuing to build on that work.

I also think in Toward Liberation, we really have the opportunity to explore these connections between family policing and other abolitionist movements and other important issues. For example, this month, January, we’re reading Freedom is a Constant Struggle, Angela Davis’s book that talks about from Ferguson to Palestine to a movement. 

We as abolitionists need to understand that we are not free until Palestine is free. and we all need to be working in that space, as well as the, say for us, who focus primarily on family policing, we have to start thinking of our work as bigger. If we are successful in ending the family policing system, and there’s still prisons, policing, apartheid, we have accomplished nothing. And I think that’s what reading and study brings to the understanding of this work.


Jaison Oliver 

I appreciate that as an image of your dream of a post-abolition world. I’m curious about, Maya, if you have dreams, what are your dreams in Josie as well? I tell everybody who knows me, knows I love a book club, right? So, so much of my dreams revolve around these spaces of bringing people together to form relationships, but also to play with these ideas and like try and tackle these ideas. 

But also going back to what we were talking about in terms of like the participatory budgeting, like seeing the connections between all this so we can think bigger and really take ownership of these resources that aren’t being used in the ways that we want, right? So our money is not being used to fund war and genocide, right? Like so that we really have control and are moving in the right direction. So yeah, thoughts about your dreams of a post-abolition world that you wanna share with our audience.


Maya Pendleton

I think what comes to my mind first is all the things that we’re told we can’t afford—we can afford them. They’re there. People have them. People have health care. It’s free. It’s really good. The quality is great. There’s no student loans. People aren’t going into debt because they want to learn. Learning is not a commodity. It’s something that people do because they want to, you know, be better in this world. They want to be better humans. They want to learn how to be in community with each other.

Like Jaison said, we’re not funding genocide. I think, you know, my dream for a world is borderless. So borders don’t exist. We’re not keeping people out of places. We’re not regulating who and who cannot come in. And similarly, I think that our communities have what they need, and they’re also like self-functioning. So they’re deciding what things look like. They have the power to build the type of houses they want to build, to construct the roads they want to construct, to where, who knows? 

I just think that there’s so many cool things that we could do and think about how we use our time. I think something that capitalism takes from us so often is our time and our ability just to be, to be a human and to do the things that fill our souls with joy. And so I view an abolitionist world as a world where, yeah, people do labor, but our labor is, you know, because people have to eat. Like we’re building houses, like we’re doing things that are labor-some because we need them, because they’re fulfilling a function in this world and we’re giving back. We’re not laboring so that we can accumulate resources and use them for bad things. 

So I always get really happy when I talk about this because I think it’s like such a beautiful thing to be able to imagine what. things could be like if we weren’t in these systems.


Josie Pickens 

I think I’m on the same page as Maya. I know when I first started moving toward abolition, a lot of my thinking revolved around mutual aid work, us building communities and offering resources to one another so that we can survive. A lot of that I reached back to the past four stories from my parents who came from a small. black town in Louisiana and there were no systems that were intervening to help. 

And so when there were challenges that arose in families and communities, communities stood up, you know, but also, you know, as I continue to vision, I’m thinking about, well, mutual aid is great and it’s rooted in resources and money and we live in this capitalist society. So what, in the same way that Maya is saying, what does a future look like where we don’t have to figure out how to raise money to provide resources because the resources are there and we aren’t constantly thinking about money, even as organizers, even as abolitionists? 

But I think in my, you know, latest vision for this world that I hope to be a part of making, is thinking about Mariame Kaba’s definition of abolition, which includes all of the things that we’re talking about, but also like what Maya mentioned about joy, about beauty, art and culture, like adding that, nature, to be able to like experience nature, to be able to experience art and beautiful things. 

Because I think that is something that we need to. when we’re having these conversations about the world that we want. Yes, we want everyone to have resources. We want to eliminate a lot of the underlying issues that cause families to be separated, but we also want families to experience joy and love and togetherness and to be able to see and touch and hear beautiful things and, you know, experience art and all of these different things. different things that I also want to focus on as I’m dreaming.


Jaison Oliver 

All work to build communities and help families who are targeted by the family policing system is abolition work. What advice can we give to those wanting to do abolition work now? How can folks start where they are? 


Maya Pendleton

I always encourage people to figure out what matters to them, what’s important to them, and find a few people who are doing it, or maybe just yourself, and figure out what that looks like. So like, for some people that’s art, and like that’s really important to them making spaces for people to create and, you know, do liberation art. 

Some people that might be repro justice and thinking about abortion work and getting people access to care for some people that might be supporting families so they’re not involved in the family policing system. Like there’s so much that we need to tackle. 

It’s literally okay if everyone has a different sort of area that they’re focused on because there’s so much work to be done. It’s also okay if you pick an area that a lot of people are focusing on because there can never be too many of us doing these things. So I would suggest like researching. Are there any local organizations in your area that are doing things that you feel called to. They normally have informational calls and you can really join that work and get a part of it. I think sometimes it feels really overwhelming and I know that people are always just like, join an organization, but for a lot of people, they’re like, how do I do that? But, you know, there are orgs out here. I would suggest the website, One Million Experiments. They have a lot of orgs listed across the country that are doing. abolitionist work and you can find one and try to get involved.


Alan Dettlaff 

When I think about this question, I always think of Mariame Kaba, who is a big part of one million experience experiments, but who always says, “Just try shit.” That’s kind of like her motto that she says all the time. But I think that’s so important because it’s simple, but it just means, just do something, try something, experiment, fail, learn from your failures, learn from the experiments, but stop overthinking. Stop getting caught up in the, “well, what about this? And what about that? Just try shit.” I think that’s the best advice that any of us in this space can hear. I also think that I’ve been thinking a lot about the concept of thick solidarity because I agree, or I think it’s important that we find the thing that’s important to us and work on whatever that is.

Another friend of mine, a local organizer, Candice Weber, once said to a group of students in one of my classes, find the thing that moves you and then move. I think that’s really good advice too, but this idea of thick solidarity, and it was in a paper written by Roseann Liu and Savannah Shange. And they say that thick solidarity is based on a radical belief in the inherent value of each other’s lives, despite never being able to fully understand or fully share in the experience of those lives. 

And I think that’s so important because we often focus on issues that are directly impacting us. And I don’t think that has to be, or in many cases, should be catalyst that moves us to act. I will never understand what it’s like to be a Palestinian living under occupation and being oppressed and terrorized and brutalized daily. But that doesn’t mean I can just sit back and say that doesn’t impact me and not be involved in the work to address that. 

You know, like Maya talked about the future being borderless. And I think that’s something we have to think about and start identifying and sharing in these collective global struggles. If you think about when there are world events, bombings, plane crashes, things like that, what the news reports is that there were four Americans who were killed by this out of the thousands of hundreds of people. The fact that there were four Americans is irrelevant to anything. Why is that even reported? But it’s the idea that because we live in this country that we should care more about American lives lost than other lives lost.

And I think we just have to get out of that way of thinking and direct our activities, the work that we do as abolitionists, to the people who are most harmed by carceral state apparatuses, whether that is a prison, the police, the family policing system, or a literal genocide that’s happening around us right now.


Jaison Oliver 

Thick solidarity. I’ve heard it, but hadn’t explored it yet. So I’m really appreciative of you bringing that in and giving me something. I mean, in addition to all the other nuggets that we’ve got today, right? Something like that’s gonna stick in my head for the evening. 

Thank you both for joining us. I wanna say thank you to all of our guests, as well as our production support. Sydnie, Renia, Imani, connease, like everybody who has made this season possible. Alan and Maya, where can people find you and how can they stay connected with you and your work?


Alan Dettlaff 

Well, obviously That’s where all of our work is, and we’re @upendmovement on all the social channels. I’d recommend people, if they haven’t yet read my book, to read that. It’s Confronting the Racist Legacy of the American Child Welfare System, the case for abolition. You can follow me. All of my social handles are Alan.laugh across all of them. And, oh, and then the Toward Liberation book club, that’s a public book club.


And we have a book or reading every month. And then we also have a live Zoom meeting at the end of every month that everyone’s welcome to join.


Maya Pendleton

Yeah, I’m hesitant to give out socials because I’m not that active all the time. So I do have social media on Twitter, @mvpendleton. I also have Instagram, which we can put in the show notes, and then I would also encourage you to read Alan’s book and visit upEND Movement’s website.


Josie Pickens

All right, thank you both again. Thank you, Jaison, for co-hosting this season with me. We have reached the end and the final episode of season one of the upEND Podcast. We hope you’ve enjoyed this episode and all of the episodes we’ve shared. Please feel free to rate and comment on the episodes you’ve heard and look for details about what is coming up on season two of the podcast. Thanks everybody!


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