By Woodnick Law, PLLC
Conscious or unconscious, racial bias affects all aspects of life. The caseworkers and child welfare investigators (OCWIs) that make up the Department of Child Safety (DCS) are not immune from these biases. A recent article from ProPublica, which has received national attention, addresses how these biases have culminated in a disproportionate number of DCS investigations into Black families.
The article highlights the case of Nydea Richards, a Black woman in Maricopa County whose newborn child was drug tested by the hospital despite no hospital policy mandating the same and no concrete evidence demonstrating a suspicion that the child was substance exposed. Though Richards herself tested clean, her child returned a false positive for being substance exposed.
What followed was five days of absolute horror.
Richards was prohibited from being alone with her newborn baby and interrogated about her “marital status, whether she received food stamps and how she usually handles stress.” Her six other children were similarly questioned and were inspected for signs of child abuse and/or neglect. After the results showed that the newborns positive test for substances was false, the investigation was unsubstantiated.
But this did not mean DCS was out of Richard’s life forever. A couple of months later, DCS would once again investigate Richards and her family after she sought medical care for a child that accidentally fell off the couch. Though this too would be unsubstantiated, Richards now lives in constant fear that DCS will come and take her children away.
Richards also believes that her race played a role in DCS’ initial involvement in her life and the subsequent investigations. Statistics support this belief.
As the ProPublica article discusses, race is undoubtedly a factor in DCS investigations. Studies by the National Academy of Sciences as well as data analysis of federal child welfare statistics by ProPublica in conjunction with NBC news shows that “more Black children in metro Phoenix will go through a child maltreatment investigation than won’t.” According to their research, from 2015-2019, 38% of Black children in Maricopa County were investigated for child abuse compared to 14% of White children.
The report also acknowledges that this disproportionate treatment of Black families is not just a product of racial biases, but also of public policies that “take a punitive rather than preventative approach toward Black parents, many of whom are struggling under the legacy of racism, a lack of inherited wealth and a slashed social safety net.”
This look at how DCS overwhelmingly investigates more children from Black than White families is important. No person, let alone a state agency, is immune from racial biases and not all public policies are mindful of how history has affected minority communities. In fact, some public policies continue to actively perpetuate harmful and false racial stereotypes about how certain communities parent their children.
Though DCS plays a vital role in ensuring children are protected and in safe hands, it should acknowledge what this report shows – Black families are being investigated more for child abuse and neglect – despite making up only 13.2% of Maricopa County’s population. Policies need to be reexamined and case workers need more training to better understand and address this disparity.
Woodnick Law, PLLC is a boutique law firm that serves individuals and families in Maricopa County, Coconino County, Pima County, and all throughout Arizona.