Drug Wars and Racism in Foster Care

It’s as if everything the drug war touches is corrupted or destroyed. The U.S. child foster care system is no exception.

From 2000 to 2011, researchers estimate one third of children in the U.S. were subject to a child neglect or abuse investigation — including more than 50 percent of Black children, according to a groundbreaking report…researcher Lisa Sangoi of the Movement for Family Power…exposes the foster system as rife with drug war attitudes and state violence. […]

The number of children taken from their parents and placed in foster care has risen in recent years, most often for “neglect” and “drug use,” although critics say child protective services (CPS) agencies often conflate drug use and neglect…In 2017, 83 percent investigations into alleged child maltreatment were closed after no evidence of mistreatment was found. […]

In 2014, the foster system allocated nearly three time as much money on removing and maintaining children outside of their original homes than on services aimed at keeping families together… a significant portion of the cases in family courts allege parental neglect based on drug use. Data varies across the country, but by some estimates, about 80 percent all foster system cases involve drug use at some point in the life of the case…. While these cases range from occasional cannabis use to debilitating substance use disorders, parents and their advocates agree that virtually every case is characterized by “gross misinformation” on the science of drug use…. The system also conflates treatment noncompliance with bad parenting, even as parents are attempting to juggle time-consuming [drug] treatment programs with making money and taking care of their kids.

“The judge stated I had been utilizing poor coping mechanisms because I discussed the potential of buying marijuana … and that justified removing my children from my care and removing me from home and making me homeless,” Brico said.

The racist myth that Black and Brown mothers were giving birth to drug-addicted “crack babies” has been thoroughly debunked, but at the time, the term was thrown around recklessly by pundits and lawmakers eager to blame poor people for the conditions of their poverty. Researchers now know that prenatal exposure to cocaine, has little to no effect on a child’s long-term physical and cognitive development. The same goes for cannabis, which some pregnant people use to treat morning sickness. Research shows that the stresses and harms of poverty, however, can have a tremendous impact on child development. […]

Myth-busting common drug stereotypes would likely have succeeded whereas drug-busting failed to preserve the lives of citizens like George Floyd who died because of a myth that says Black men on drugs are violent and require physical restraint. Many others are cut down in some way by botched or racist drug enforcement that seeks to cure poverty by eliminating the impoverished.

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