Nine Months in the Bronx
June 20, 2016 5:08 AM   Subscribe

Thanks for sharing. I feel like it deserves comment, but the only thing I can think of to say is that in this intersection of race and gender, it makes me angry that in this case--and in no doubt many others--women are the ones paying the price for men's mistakes. And while it's easy enough to stand in judgment and say "well, then don't have babies with deadbeats/addicts/abusers/manbabies", in a different context the focus would probably be more on helping the mother get out of a bad situation and not just taking away their children.
posted by drlith at 8:12 AM on June 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

The system is based on punishment not helping.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:34 AM on June 20, 2016 [6 favorites]

The way this was cut/information was given provided to us, it seems like leaving Jamel was the "right" move for Felicia, so "the system" forcing her to make that decision was possibly a good thing. It would have been different if he was actually taking steps that showed that he was willing to be a good father but it seems like he was messing up at the absolutely basic level.

I do not envy the jobs of people who work in child services. I honestly believe that no one would take on a role like that without wanting to do what is best for those children. But when doing what's best for the child means taking that child away from their mother or father (or both) it's so easy for them to be seen as agents of oppression.

I wanted to know more about the drug tests (especially the prenatal one that Felicia got dinged on). Is that really something that is only done to poor women/women of color? I wonder if I would be OK with it if it was just standard procedure to drug test all pregnant women.

I was struck by how sparse those apartments were. I guess my experience with poverty in america has been more on the hoarder spectrum, but I expected maybe some worn looking couches or something.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:30 AM on June 20, 2016

I'd really like to share some of the research I've been reading on this topic but I'm exhausted and my computer is getting stuck so I'm going to paraphrase and throw in a few links that match the studies I did read but are not studies I have read so keep that in mind-- Basically when you consider that lower income women are often at higher risk of sexual violence;

"This article argues that economic instability and sexual violence reinforce each other in two ways. First, the devastating psychological consequences of sexual assault can diminish work performance and disrupt income, creating economic instability, particularly for the asset-poor. Latina and African American women face particular risk due to barriers to appropriate post-assault resources and low rates of asset ownership. Second, income- and asset poverty increase women's risk for sexual violence and complicate recovery."

And that friending and appeasing dangerous men can be a survival strategy for women- the level of shame and punition carried out on vulnerable women is oppressive and predatory. The fact that it is deeply ingrained in women to appease dangerous men and make them happy has often kept us alive through times when there was no one to protect us from dangerous men, and in a current world where the men of the police force supposedly who will protect women may actually be yet another threat.

The amount of judgement about women's survival and coping mechanisms in these situations coming from people from far more stable situations is something very worth examining.

When people with power and leverage over another are given the power to remove another's children and judge them, it can not only seem oppressive, but actually be oppressive.

It is indeed difficult and complicated, but I think we need to look deeper than sympathizing with how hard CPS work is and therefore accepting the abuses it's carrying out on families who should be offered far more resources and support. CPS work is traumatic and terrible; that can be true while acknowledging the racism, classism, and prejudice that cloud already understandably emotionally charged and difficult decisions.
posted by xarnop at 9:46 AM on June 20, 2016 [17 favorites]

Thank you for sharing that, xarnop.

I think we need to look deeper than sympathizing with how hard CPS work is and therefore accepting the abuses it's carrying out on families who should be offered far more resources and support.

I wonder how much of the problem is due to CPS (at the ground level) not having the resources that they need to offer the resources and support that can help the whole family. I'm sure that racism, classism, and prejudice are absolutely at play at the policy making level, which trickles down to the folks in the "trenches" having to make quick evaluations at the hospital immediately after the baby is born.

Like, if Felicia needed to be in a drug treatment program (and I don't get the impression from what we saw that she actually did), wouldn't it have been better for everyone if that could have started while she was still pre-natal?

Similarly, Jamel seemed like he was flagged as "a problem" because the wrong person saw him holding his baby the wrong way, one time. A better resourced CPS might have been able to evaluate that incident in context, instead of coming down to "he has a neglect charge, so the baby can't be in a home with him." Then again -- it seems like there were opportunities for Jamel to work this out but he declined to take them.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:01 AM on June 20, 2016

It is instinctive in many species to harass the low status mothers. Making it impossible for low status females to raise their offspring successfully ensures that their children do not compete with the offspring of high status mothers. In some primate species an infant will be taken away from its mother by a non-lactating female and cherished and held and loved until it dies of thirst and starvation.

People don't seem to understand that "You shouldn't have that baby!" is an instinctive response and usually leads to a much worse outcome for the child than providing support for the parent would.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:04 PM on June 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

sparklemotion: The problem with mandatory drug tests is that people assume the results are correct. In fact, drug tests can turn up false positives, but then the burden of proof is on the "druggie" so that she can prove she can take care of a child.

See this article: I went to the hospital to give birth and tested positive for meth.

Why would it be okay to do that to anybody? Or everybody?
posted by ethidda at 4:11 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

Ontario is only just acknowledging that the primary maternal drug testing facility was often wrong. What a horror for all the innocents involved.
posted by saucysault at 5:47 PM on June 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

See this article: I went to the hospital to give birth and tested positive for meth. Why would it be okay to do that to anybody? Or everybody?

There's a cynical part of me that thinks that if every mother is given prenatal drug tests, and more pretty, white, ladies with sufficient resources to have a doula and pose for ironic birth announcements with Bryan Cranston, end up with false positives, maybe that could start to make a dent in the prejudice and biases of the people who are making the decisions*. (I'm making assumptions about her actual level of privilege here, but I think they are reasonable based on what she herself shares in the essay).

There's also part of me that thinks that the system seemed to work pretty damn while in Maggie Downs's case. She probably consented to the screen in the pile of paperwork that you always have to sign in a hospital (more informed consent might be something the hospital might want to look into). She got screened, she got told what would happen, at no point were she or her husband denied access to their baby, and she was allowed to breastfeed as she wanted to (though discouraged, because as far as the nurses knew, she had drugs in her system). A social worker met with them and determined the baby was safe with them, further tests were run, and they got the confirmation a few weeks later.

Which is why I think I might be OK with screening all mothers (I worry that if Ms. Downs had looked and spoken more like Felicia, the social worker wouldn't have been as strongly in their corner). I'm definitely not OK with having some kind of race/class based pre-screen that somehow "accidentally" seems to only flag poor and minority women for drug screens.

*probably not, obvs, this is America.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:07 PM on June 20, 2016

Recently someone blanketed our mostly whitebread Portland OR neighborhood with posters blasting the local CPS, four or five handmade flyers per telephone pole, calling it an evil agency that steals people's children. My first thought (Ugh, really, this is the best way to accomplish your goal?) was followed quickly by the realization that if I thought people were taking my kids away unfairly--hell, for any reason--there's no saying what I'd do.
posted by gottabefunky at 8:23 PM on June 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Not to mention if they weren't already being physically or sexually abused, putting them in foster care greatly increases their risk of experiencing this:

"In fact, cites a troubling statistic from one study, claiming that over 28% of children in state care are abused while in "the system." However, former foster children I've worked with believe that the incidents of in-foster-care abuse are much higher."

We like to assume CPS exists to, and does, protect kids and any parent whose child was taken has their voice immediately taken from them, they are assumed to rightly be an abuser and they system succeeded. Their anguish, trauma, and pain is used as further proof of their instability. Meanwhile the trauma of losing ones children is more likely to cause addiction and negative coping mechanism and mental health problems to increase if they weren't present already- not to get better.
posted by xarnop at 7:05 AM on June 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ok now I've had time to pull up a larger grouping of studies for any interested.

Over half of African American women reported reproductive coercion, stating explicitly as the cause of unplanned pregnancies for them. "AA women in the sample reported experiences of reproductive coercion more often than White women (53% and 20%, respectively)" While a lot of people tend to put the blame on women and say they should be better at defending themselves from reproductive coercion- targeting women with a greater burden of responsibility to prevent pregnancies while trying to protect themselves from domestic violence and/or obtain housing or other needed issues might not be effective (and might be the wrong people to target with heightened workload and blame when one group is abusing another).

"Targeting condom negotiation self-efficacy alone in abusive relationships would likely not translate into improved sexual health outcomes in this population. Other strategies are needed to prevent unintended pregnancy and STDs." Other factors associated with unprotected sex included "cohabitation, emotional abuse, and having a boyfriend as a primary source of spending money. Factors associated with unplanned pregnancy 6 months later included being at least 4 years younger than the boyfriend and cohabitation. Among minors, cohabitation predicted even larger risks of unprotected sex and unplanned pregnancy."

Essentially, while people like to shame women for seeking relationships or sharing their sexuality for housing- there is an entire industry in which people are being paid to police the poor for their desperate behaviors- for being preyed on by predatory men while in need of housing, shelter, or assistance while healing from trauma or other long term issues that may impact employment.

The entire system is founded on the principles of allowing the most vulnerable among us to be shoveled full of blame and heavy workload while in middle of carrying trauma and pain far beyond the people judging them frequently have any understanding of or willing to fight to bring assistance rather than blame to. If we really care about these kids we would likely do more good for these families by not working in industries where we profit from harming families and instead, remain healthy and promote more funds to families in need and trauma/class/etc informed respect and services for our fellow human beings. If I can't raise someone elses child myself, I don't have any confidence it will help to take the children away leaving a parent and child traumatized and in ruins, and then not even having a place to send the child or leaving them in homes where they may be sexually or physically abused or neglected BECAUSE I tried to get them out-- then shame the parent as they fall apart and can't function at all and claim they don't really want to step up and care about their kids.

It's not working. And it absolutely is about placing the blame for the effects of poverty and systemic disenfranchisement, racism, and sexual abuse on the shoulders of the most vulnerable.
posted by xarnop at 2:08 PM on June 24, 2016

And I'm really sad that my search skills are failing me but there were a number of studies last I checked that found removal was causative at increasing addiction, employment struggles, increasing mental health problems and dysfunction in the mothers. So if the goal is to remove the children "in order to" help the mother get better, this is an utterly failed policy. One article discussed the need for keeping mothers with their children while healing from addiction or mental health issues, if the goal of actually helping them heal and keeping the family together is present- especially when sexual or physical abuse is not present.
posted by xarnop at 2:20 PM on June 24, 2016

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