NEW YORK, NY—Ahead of an upcoming meeting of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), more than 25 advocates and civil rights organizations have signed on to a new report submitted today by Children’s Rights and the Human Rights Institute at Columbia Law School. The report calls on CERD to hold the United States accountable for its failure to adequately address or remedy racial discrimination within the child welfare system, a violation of Article II of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD).
“Racial injustice in child welfare is an urgent human rights issue. That’s why we are bringing our concerns to the UN,” said Shereen A. White, director of advocacy and policy at Children’s Rights. “Although the child welfare system claims to protect children’s safety and best interests, decades of research, data, and lived experiences show that the system instead subjects families of color, particularly Black families, to unequal and fundamentally racist practices. The result is the forced physical and legal separation of Black families and incalculable harm to Black children. The U.S. government and policymakers must take action to address the urgent concerns of Black children and families impacted by the child welfare system – and we are hopeful that raising this issue with the UN can help drive action to address racial disparities in child welfare systems in the U.S.”
Earlier this year, the Biden Administration acknowledged the ongoing structural racism within the U.S. child welfare system. However, the U.S. has not taken meaningful action to address or remedy the harms caused by racist child welfare policies.
During its August convening in Geneva, CERD will review U.S. performance on efforts to eliminate racial discrimination. Among those attending will be Joyce McMillan, child welfare advocate and executive director of JMac For Families, a vocal voice calling for an end to systems of harm and the creation of concrete resources that can help keep families together. McMillan, whose organization has signed on to Children’s Rights’ and Columbia Law School Human Rights Institute’s new report, is well-versed in the long history of unjust and racist child welfare policies and practices that have harmed Black families and children, including her own.
“No matter how well-intentioned, Black people experience the child welfare system as a continued form of slavery, as it separates us from our family and family history for generations; and causes immeasurable stress and trauma. I am going to Geneva because I am utilizing the pain that my family and I endured 23 years ago, so that others do not have to experience the long, drawn out pain that I continue to live with. The state-sanctioned harm that Black families suffer via the United States child welfare system must end. “
Black children face discrimination and unequal outcomes at each stage in the U.S. child welfare system. Over experience a child welfare investigation before their 18th birthday — double the rate of white children. Further, once separated from their families, Black children are more likely to stay in foster care longer, are less likely to be reunified with their parents or adopted, and face worse outcomes after exiting the system (often by aging out at age 18), including higher risk of homelessness and criminal justice involvement.
While CERD has previously expressed concerns over the removal of indigenous children from their families and communities through the United States child welfare system, as well as the separation of migrant children from their parents at the border, the UN body has not addressed discrimination within the child welfare system as a whole.
“In the United States, numerous federal and state laws and policies subject Black families to racist surveillance and policing by the child welfare system,” said Anjli Parrin, co-executive director at Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute. “The failure of the U.S. government to take action to address these laws and policies and their discriminatory impact violates the government’s obligation under the international convention on elimination of racial discrimination, and international law more broadly.”
The new report includes policy recommendations for the U.S. government to implement at the federal and state level, including taking measures to eliminate racial discrimination in the child welfare system by reviewing, amending and/or repealing existing federal laws, policies, and regulations that perpetuate racial discrimination and developing community supports for families, delinked from the child welfare system.
ABOUT CHILDREN’S RIGHTS
Every day, children are harmed in America’s child welfare, juvenile justice, education, and healthcare systems. Through relentless strategic advocacy and legal action, we hold governments accountable for keeping kids safe and healthy. Children’s Rights, a national non-profit organization, has made a lasting impact for hundreds of thousands of vulnerable children. For more information, please visit www.childrensrights.org.
ABOUT THE COLUMBIA LAW SCHOOL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTITUTE
The Human Rights Institute advances international human rights through education, advocacy,
fact-finding, research, scholarship, and critical reflection. We work in partnership with advocates, communities, and organizations pushing for social change to develop and strengthen the human rights legal framework and mechanisms, promote justice and accountability for human rights violations, and build and amplify collective power. For more information, please visit www.law.columbia.edu/human-rights-institute.