Help Not Hotlines: Replacing Mandated Reporting for Neglect with a New Framework for Family Support


There is no shortage of calls to reimagine legal and social systems and rethink the concept of safety in order to strengthen and empower communities as recognition of the detrimental effects of these systems on marginalized communities grows. As these calls draw every system in this country under a microscope, we must examine and dismantle all practices, policies, and structures that stand in the way of building well-resourced, strong communities where children and families can remain safely together. One such practice within the child welfare system is that of mandated reporting. Reporting for neglect based on lack of financial resources or an inability to access support services is particularly cruel and pernicious; it must end if we want to achieve the ultimate goal of strengthening communities. Taken as a whole, mandated reporting laws have done more harm than good. As applied to people experiencing poverty, particularly Black people, these laws have given the state license to destroy their families and communities.

Parents and former foster youth who have first-hand experience with the child welfare system have provided us with insight into what communities and families need to thrive. Rather than protecting children and strengthening families, mandated reporting too often uproots children, devastates families, and inflicts additional harm on children and parents. It has deviated so far from its stated purpose that it has been likened to “stop and frisk” for families—a tool of omnipresent surveillance and devastation. Mandated reporting is a key reason that many impacted parents, activists, advocates, and scholars now call the “child welfare” system, the “family regulation” or “family policing” system. In our response to calls to reimagine the family regulation system (“family regulation system” or “the system”), we must be led by the voices of impacted parents and young people in envisioning and implementing a framework for child safety that is rooted in community success and not family punishment.

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