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Excerpted From: Miriam Mack, The White Supremacy Hydra: How the Family First Prevention Services Act Reifies Pathology, Control, and Punishment in the Family Regulation System, 11 Columbia Journal of Race and Law 767 (July, 2021) (169 Footnotes) (Full Document)

MiriamMackSome frame the family regulation system not as a policing system, but rather as a gentler, non-punitive government intervention aimed at protecting children and supporting families. This framing is especially true when discussing the Family First Prevention Services Act of 2018. This act has been lauded by some as a reordering of the family regulation system through a more supportive, family-centered approach. Though undoubtedly the Family First Prevention Services Act is a shift in federal family regulation system policy, the Act is a recalibration of the old and familiar family regulation system, not a transformation. The Act keeps intact, and indeed reifies, the fundamental pillars of the family regulation system: pathology, control, and punishment, all of which uphold and further white supremacy. It leaves unchallenged the underlying structure of the family regulation system which works to pathologize Black parents, mostly mothers, and which allows Black communities and homes to be controlled and occupied by family regulation system workers. Despite tinkering at the system's edges, the Family First Act reinforces the notion that Black children remaining in their homes with their parents necessitates the watchful eye of family regulation system agents.

This article traces how the Family First Act leaves firmly in place the white supremacist roots of the family regulation system. Part I of this article explains how federal family regulation system policy is rooted in white supremacist ideologies and techniques, namely pathology, control, and punishment of Black mothers. Part II of this article analyzes how the Family First Act changes the family regulation system's mechanisms of action from removal to the foster system to in-home services, but in no way challenges the fundamental pillars upon which the family regulation system rests. And drawing from the prison abolition movement, Part III of this article humbly suggests some organizing questions and principles that can help guide us in dismantling the family regulation system and investing in self-determination, autonomy, care, and support.

[. . .]

Enacted only in 2018, it is too early to tell precisely the impact the Family First Act will have on families enmeshed in the family regulation system. What is clear, however, is that the family regulation system is a policing system designed to uphold and further white supremacy. What is also clear is that the Act is, at its core, a continuation of prior federal family regulation policy. The ideologies and techniques that drove the modern foster system prior to the Act--pathology, expansive control, and punishment--are the very same ideologies and techniques that drive the Act. From its myopic focus on parental behavior and “deficits;” to the omission of structural factors that produce inequality; to the continued surveillance of families in the system; and to the state's power of forcing compliance and exercise expansive control, the Family First Act reflects yet another federal family regulation policy recalibration undertaken to ensure the system's survival. Given this reality, we must do what the Family First Act does not. Guided by PIC abolitionist principles, we must disrupt, dismantle, and ultimately abolish the family regulation system. Only then can we and build its place community-based structures that center dignity, self-determination, care, and support.

Miriam Mack is Policy Counsel to the Family Defense Practice at The Bronx Defenders.

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