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We Must Demand Recognition and Protection of the Sanctity of Black Families

United Nations PFPAD2 in NYC

On May 31, Children’s Rights, JMACforFamilies, and the ACLU welcomed over 200 people from across the US to Healing Historical Trauma, a virtual gathering to learn and reflect on the historical harms the US child welfare system (family policing system) has and continues to inflict on Black families, challenge the status quo, and dream of a world where the legal right to family integrity is no longer just a theory for Black families, but a sacred and upheld human right.

The event coincided with the convening of the 2nd Session of the Permanent Forum of People of African Descent (PFPAD2), an advisory body that works closely with the UN Human Rights Council. We gathered to make it loud and clear that we expect the United Nations and the Permanent Forum to publicly declare the forcible and traumatic separation of families of African Descent an urgent crisis and a human rights violation happening in the US and beyond, and deserving priority and protection in any Declaration on the Rights of People of African Descent.

In the United States, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to family integrity, with protections against undue, forcible government separation of families. Parents have the authority to make decisions for their children and maintain privacy in their homes and family relationships. Unfortunately, these rights are frequently disregarded under the pretext of child protection, especially for Black families struggling with poverty.

The facts are well established. 53% of Black children are at risk of being investigated by child welfare services, and 1 in 41 Black children will have their parents’ legal rights terminated before their 18th birthday. In 2021, after a decade of advocacy, the United Nations General Assembly created the PFPAD to enhance the safety and quality of life and livelihood for people of African descent worldwide. The PFPAD has the potential to be a space for people of African descent from across the world to come together and collectively call out, discuss, and take action on human rights violations experienced by our people. Our small but mighty team of advocates show up to name the anti-Black racism experienced by children and parents who suffer from the family policing system. Adding the right to family integrity in the Declaration of Rights for People of African Descent is a crucial step towards achieving justice for Black children and families.

Healing Historical Trauma was presented in the form of two thought-provoking panel discussions, each moderated by the amazing Angela Olivia Burton, Convenor, RepealCAPTA Workgroup. The first panelists discussed the deeply-rooted legal right of family integrity, autonomy, and privacy that government systems have historically and presently, blatantly denied Black families.

Angela Burton headshot

I want share a quote that is so relevant for us now.

‘United States slavery began with family separation. Eliminating family ties was essential to maintaining the social isolation needed to perpetuate the institution of slavery. While parents labored from first light to darkness under tyrannical masters, the enslaved child was exposed to emotional deprivation and persistent anxiety, that isolation from consistent adult attention and prolonged absences of parents it inevitably produces.’

I read that to just say – this why we are having this conversation here today. 

Angela Olivia Burton, Esq., Convenor, RepealCAPTA Workgroup
Tamia Govan headshot

This question, what does family integrity mean to you? Integrity means completeness. When something has integrity it is whole. But from the very beginning, we weren’t given the opportunity to completeness. We are still fighting for that right now.

Tamia Govan, Professional Agitator and Advocate Family Preservation and Autonomy
Miriam Mack Headshot

The family policing system allows for all of us, as a collective, to look away from the ways in which we are deeply implicated in the continued oppression and plundering of Black communities. The way in which we are deeply implicated in the sort of collective disregard for children, child poverty, for the conditions under which we have decided that it is okay for Black children, for Indigenous children, for Latino children to live.

Miriam Mack, Esq., Policy Director Family Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders
Dominique Day Headshot

What we have here is a curated skepticism about the Black family, about the integrity of the Black family, the capacity and the capability of Black parenting. Of the innocence and the sanctity of Black motherhood. If these things are at the core of how you see the Black family, the protection of the rights of the Black child, the protection of the rights of the people within that family are not being protected.

Dominique Day, Member of the UN Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent and Executive Director of DAYLIGHT

The second Healing Historical Trauma panel focused on the trauma, including intergenerational, of family separation and the impact on Black families’ health and well-being and explored solutions to mitigate and eliminate those harms.

Tamia Govan headshot

It looked like the foster system saved me. And yet, I was fundamentally wounded by being separated from my biological family without any contact…. I appear to be well, I appear to be whole, I appear to be thriving. But that lack of family integrity, that family separation that took place way back in my early days, was with me. ….when we’re talking about what is critical, what is absolutely imperative to become a recommendation for health. Family integrity is absolutely at the top of that list.

Tamia Govan, Professional Agitator and Advocate Family Preservation and Autonomy
Dr. Benjamin Danielson headshot

The impact of enforced toxic poverty and the factors that we live through, thrive through survived through every day, create traumas. Traumas induced and ongoing traumas that become layered in our bodies, physically layered, written and sculpted, and etched into our cells, into our DNA, affecting us. Layers upon layers, generations upon generations we carry—we carry all the gifts. All the beautiful parts. All the wonderful, incredible values of our ancestors. We hold those with us right now.

Dr. Benjamin Danielson, Pediatrician & Clinical Professor of Pediatrics University of Washington School of Medicine
Deanna Y. Smith Headshot

The looming threat of child separation is impacting access to care for Black mothers and their children. And when the healthcare system is in bed, for a lack of a better word, with the family policing system, it creates a situation where Black mothers can’t trust the care that they’re receiving.

DeAnna Y. Smith, Researcher and Advocate University of Michigan
Alexandria Ware Headshot

We’re generational products of the family policing system. So they didn’t just start with my mother and my aunt. They took my mother’s kids, they took my dad’s kids, they’ve taken some of my sister’s kids. That is the stuff that we deal with as a family as a whole. Because our rights were taken. My mother’s rights were taken. My grandmother’s rights were taken. And whatever they did, whether it’s good or bad, at the end of the day, they had the right to have their children. …My mother didn’t need the foster care system to come in and take us away. What she needed was a community around her. She needed family. She needed people to understand that she was ripped from her community and she never got the chance to be a part of that community.

Alexandria Ware, Advocacy & Policy Fellow, Children’s Rights
Corey Best Headshot

Get materials on anti-family policing into the hands of local and national legislators and put the information into community members’ hands so that they can be the movement with us, period.

Corey B. Best, Founder and Community Curator Mining For Gold, LLC

I was so energized to be surrounded by so many beautiful people of African descent – our panelists and our audience – who hung in with us for just over two hours of conversation, inspiration, a few laughs, and many tears. Working in community with people who have experienced the trauma of oversurveillance, policing, and forcible family separation and those who want to be part of the solution, we can end the cycle of racism, poverty, and family destruction and focus on solutions that support children and families.

As Angela said, “Family, in and of itself, is the foundation for everything.” It’s our responsibility to ensure that human right is fully realized.