The Columbia Journal of Race and Law is thrilled to announce its upcoming Volume 11 Symposium, Strengthened Bonds: Abolishing the Child Welfare System and Re-Envisioning Child Well-Being in collaboration with Columbia Law School.  The symposium marks the 20th anniversary of the groundbreaking book, Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare by law professor Dorothy RobertsThe virtual symposium will kick off with a keynote address by Professor Roberts, titled How I Became a Family Policing Abolitionist, followed by a panel of responders, on the evening of June 16, 2021.  Over the subsequent two days, June 17 and 18, academics from multiple disciplines, as well as impacted parents and youth, community members, advocates, and activists, will present the papers that will comprise the two issues the Columbia Journal of Race and Law is devoting to this symposium.

Save the dates now! 

June 16, 6 pm to 8 pm Eastern
June 17, 11 am to 6 pm Eastern
June 18, 11 am to 6 pm Eastern

Please find a detailed description of the program below, including a list of all panels and presenters.  Online registration will be required. You can register for the event here.

Added bonus for early registrants: The symposium is thrilled to offer early registrants access to a special online screening of the 2018 award-winning documentary, Dawnland, examining state removal of Native American children from their families.  Dawnland documents the work of the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) - the first government-sanctioned TRC in the United States – which gathered testimony and issued a report on the impact of Maine’s child welfare practices on families in the state’s Maliseet, Micmac, Passamaquoddy, and Penobscot tribal communities.   The screening will be held the evening of March 16, and will be followed by a discussion with Dr. Mishy Lesser, a member of the filmmaking team, and Penthea Burns, co-founder of Wabanaki REACH and the Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission.  Save March 16 at 6pm for this extraordinary opportunity!

We look forward to engaging with you in the important work of this symposium.




Columbia Law School
Columbia Journal of Race and Law
June 16
–18, 2021

Twenty years ago, in Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare, law professor Dorothy Roberts systematically dismantled any pretense that the child welfare system functions to serve the interests of children. Through data, documentation, history, analysis, and family narratives, Professor Roberts called out the racism at the heart of a system that has destroyed hundreds of thousands of families. “If you came with no preconceptions about the purpose of the child welfare system,” she wrote, “you would have to conclude that it is an institution designed to monitor, regulate, and punish poor Black families.” Professor Roberts built on earlier analyses of child protection intervention that identified poverty as the leading reason for the state removing children from their families, and on the long legacy of early Progressive activists’ efforts to assimilate immigrant families who were a threat to “American” norms by conditioning assistance on intrusive and punitive interventions in their lives. We mark the 20th anniversary of this groundbreaking book with a conference and two symposium issues of the Columbia Journal of Race and Law (CJRL). The symposium is co-chaired by Professors Nancy Polikoff (American University Washington College of Law) and Jane Spinak (Columbia Law School).

Since the publication of Shattered Bonds, reform efforts have, for the most part, focused on making the current child welfare system work better without fundamentally challenging its existence. This conference is an opportunity to critique this limited reform approach and consider radical change to re-imagine how society cares for and protects children while honoring their bonds to their families and communities. The past two decades have seen abundant critiques of the American criminal legal system and its reliance on physical and financial punishment, incarceration, and isolation. A forceful prison abolition movement envisions replacing imprisonment, policing, and surveillance with alternatives that respond effectively to harm without putting people in cages or increasing the prison industrial complex, and that instead create and support healthy, stable families and communities. Parallels exist between the criminal legal system and the child welfare system; most obviously, both trace their practices to colonization and slavery, mass immigration and displacement of native populations, and the resulting and lasting inequities that have ensued and continue to disproportionately target poor people of color and especially Black and Native American communities.

The prison abolition movement has produced a robust body of scholarship. The call for papers for this symposium conference has generated equally insightful, imaginative, and important scholarship in support of abolishing the child welfare system and creating a radically new approach to child well-being. The presenters and authors are from multiple academic disciplines and include parents and youth affected by the child welfare and foster care systems, community members, advocates, and activists.

Pre-Conference Film Screening of Dawnland

March 16, 2021 6pm EST

Join us to watch the Emmy award-winning documentary, Dawnland, about the forced removal and coerced assimilation of Native American children and the Maine-Wabanaki Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the first truth and reconciliation commission in the U.S. to focus on issues of importance to Indigenous Peoples, followed by a Q&A with Dr. Mishy Lesser, learning director for Upstander Project, Education Fellow at Dodd Human Rights Impact at UConn, and author of the Dawnland Teacher's Guide. 


Evening Keynote Panel

June 16, 2021

6:00 pm to 8:00 pm EDT

  • Welcome
    • Gillian Lester, Dean and Lucy G. Moses Professor of Law, Columbia Law School 
    • Jane M. Spinak, Edward Ross Aranow Clinical Professor of Law, Columbia Law School
    • Nicolás Quaid Galván, Editor-in-Chief, Columbia Journal of Race and Law
  • Introduction of Evening Program and Moderator
    • Nancy D. Polikoff, Professor Emerita of Law, American University Washington College of Law 
  • Keynote Address
    • Dorothy E. Roberts, George A. Weiss University Professor of Law & Sociology, Raymond Pace & Sadie Tanner Mossell Alexander Professor of Civil Rights, Professor of Africana Studies, Director, Penn Program on Race, Science & Society, University of Pennsylvania, How I Became a Family Policing Abolitionist
  • Responses
    • Gwendoline M. Alphonso, Associate Professor of Politics, Fairfield University, Political-Economic Roots of Coercion – Slavery, Neoliberalism, and the Racial Family Policy Logic of Child and Social Welfare
    • Laura Briggs, Professor, Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Twentieth Century Black and Native Activism Against the Child Taking System: Lessons for the Present
    • Penthea Burns, Co-founder, Wabanaki REACH and Maine Wabanaki-State Child Welfare Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Truth, Healing, and Change in the Dawnland
    • Leyda M. Garcia-Greenawalt, MSW Student; Graduate Student Researcher; President, Foster Care Alumni of America - Illinois Chapter, Guilty: How Immigrating to the United States Became a Life Sentence to Child Welfare

Columbia Law School acknowledges and recognizes the Lenni Lenape and Wappinger peoples, whose original nations comprise the lands on which Columbia University is built.


June 17, 2021

11:00 am to 6:00 pm EDT 

We know that gathering virtually deprives us of the opportunity to interact with each other and with the panelists.  You will see in the program below that during the “coffee breaks” between each panel, and in a “cocktail hour” at the end of each day, we are providing breakout rooms.  If you wish to meet and talk with panelists and attendees during these breaks, please select the breakout room of your choice.  Unfortunately, you must supply your own coffee and cocktails!  You will also need the most updated version of Zoom to be able to select your own breakout room.

  • Introductions and Business (11:00-11:15 am)
  • Panel 1: Legal Frameworks that Perpetuate Family Regulation (11:15 am – 12:45 pm)
    • Angela Olivia Burton, Director of Quality Enhancement, Parent Representation New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services and Angeline Montauban and Angeline Montauban, Community Activist, Delinking Child Abuse Prevention from Family Wellbeing
    • Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law and Co-Director of the Family Defense Clinic, New York University School of Law, How Racial Politics Led Directly to the Enactment of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 – the Worst Law Affecting Families Ever Enacted by Congress
    • Miriam Mack, Policy Counsel, Family Defense Practice, The Bronx Defenders, The White Supremacy Hydra: How the Family First Prevention Services Act Reifies Surveillance, Control, and Punishment in the Family Regulation System
    • Michael S. Wald, Professor of Law Emeritus, Stanford Law School, Beyond CPS: Building a New System to Protect and Promote the Safety and Development of Children
    • Moderator: Jessica Dixon Weaver, Associate Professor of Law, Gerald R. Ford Senior Research Faculty Fellow, Robert G. Storey Distinguished Faculty Fellow, Southern Methodist University, Dedman School of Law
  • “Coffee Break” (12:45 -1:00 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)
  • Panel 2: The Distinctive Native American Experience (1:00 – 2:15 pm)
    • Theresa Rocha Beardall, Assistant Professor, Department of Sociology, Virginia Tech, and Frank Edwards, Assistant Professor, School of Criminal Justice, Rutgers – Newark, Abolition, Settler Colonialism, and the Persistent Threat of Indian Child Welfare
    • Addie C. Rolnick, Professor, UNLV Boyd School of Law, Disciplining and Assimilating Native Girls: A Brief History of Three Systems of Racialized and Gendered Social Control
    • Lauren van Schilfgaarde, San Manuel Band of Mission Indians Tribal Legal Development Clinic Director, UCLA School of Law and Brett Shelton, Attorney, Native Americans Rights Fund, Using Peacemaking Circles to Indigenize Tribal Child Welfare
    • Moderator: Lisa Kelly, Bobbe and Jon Bridge Professor of Child Advocacy, Director, Children and Youth Advocacy Clinic, School of Law, University of Washington
  • “Coffee Break” (2:15 -2:30 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)
  • Panel 3: Family Surveillance (2:30 – 4:00 pm)
    • J. Khadijah Abdurahman, Director of We Be Imagining, Calculating the Souls of Black Folk: Predictive Analytics in the New York City Administration of Children’s Services
    • Charlotte Baughman, LCSW., Tehra Coles, Attorney, Jennifer Feinberg, Attorney, and Hope Newton, Parent Advocate, The Center for Family Representation, The Surveillance Tentacles of the Child Welfare System
    • Victoria Copeland, Ph.D. Student, Department of Social Welfare, Luskin School of Public Affairs, UCLA, It’s the Only System We’ve Got: Exploring Emergency Response Decision-Making in Child Welfare
    • Tarek Ismail, Associate Professor of Law at the CUNY School of Law, The Consent of the Compelled: Child Protective Agents as Law Enforcement Officers
    • Moderator: Kelley Fong, Assistant Professor, School of History and Sociology, Georgia Tech
  • “Coffee Break” (4:00 - 4:15 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)
  • Panel 4: Community Approaches to Child Well-Being and Strengthening Bonds (4:15 – 5:30 pm)
    • Kele Stewart, Professor and Associate Dean of Experiential Learning, Co-Director Children & Youth Law Clinic, University of Miami School of Law, Re-Envisioning Child Well-Being: Untangling the Inequitable Intersections Among Child Welfare, Juvenile Justice and Education
    • Caitlyn Garcia, Attorney, Brooklyn Defender Services and Cynthia Godsoe, Professor, Brooklyn Law School, Divest, Invest, and Mutual Aid
    • Bianca Shaw, Assistant Director for Programs and Culture, Halimah Washington, Community Coordinator and Imani Worthy, Parent Leader, Centering Parents in Child Welfare Abolition - Reflection and Learning from RISE on How to Build, Center and Mobilize Impacted Parents
    • Moderator: Tricia Stephens, LCSW-R, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, CUNY Mellon-Inaugural Fellow, Hunter College - Silberman School of Social Work
  • “Cocktail hour” (5:30 - 6:00 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)


June 18, 2021

11:00 am to 6:00 pm EDT 

  • Introduction and Slam Poem (11:00 am - 11:15 am)
    • Demontea Thompson, M.Ed., Ph.D. Student, Urban Schooling, Graduate Student Researcher, UCLA Pritzker Center for Strengthening Children and Families, Black Bags
  • Panel 1: Family Defense Lawyering (11:15 am – 12:30 pm)
    • Carla Laroche, Clinical Professor, Florida State University College of Law, When the New Jim Crow and Jane Crow Intersect: Analyzing Right to Counsel Limitations in the Dependency System for Mothers Who Are Incarcerated
    • Jessica López-Espino, PhD Candidate–Anthropology, NYU, Doctoral Fellow in Law and Inequality - American Bar Foundation, "Minimally Fit" Parenting is not "Good" Parenting: Challenging Beliefs About Parental Care in Child Welfare Cases
    • Melody R. Webb, President and Founder, Mothers' Outreach Network, Inc., Program Dirctor, Jacob Burns Community Legal Clinics, and Professorial Lecturer-in-Law, The George Washington University Law School, Taking a Multifaceted, Empowerment-Centered Approach to Entanglement in the Foster Care System That Focuses on Building Power to Tackle African-American Family Poverty
    • Moderator: Charisa Kiyô Smith, Associate Professor, CUNY School of Law
  • “Coffee Break” (12:30 - 12:45 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)
  • Panel 2: Looking Through Client Lenses: Youth of Color, LGBT Parents and Youth, Disabled Parents (12:45 – 2:00 pm)
    • Kara Finck, Practice Professor of Law, Director of Interdisciplinary Child Advocacy Clinic, Marcia Hopkins, MSW, Senior Manager, Youth Advocacy Program & Policy, Juvenile Law Center, with Youth Foster Change and Juveniles for Justice advocates, Families Matter: Constructing and Anti-Racist System from the Perspective of Youth Advocates and Interdisciplinary Collaboration
    • Courtney G. Joslin, Martin Luther King Jr. Professor of Law, UC Davis School of Law, and Catherine Sakimura, Deputy Director & Family Law Director, National Center for Lesbian Rights, Fractured Families: LGBTQ Families of Color and the Child Welfare System
    • L. Frunel (pseudonym of parent author) and Sarah Lorr, Assistant Professor of Clinical Law & Co-Director of the Disability and Civil Rights Clinic, Brooklyn Law School, Lived Experience and Disability Justic in the Foster System
    • Moderator: Sacha M. Coupet, Morris I. Leibman Professor of Law, Loyola University Chicago School of Law
  • “Coffee Break” (2:00 -2:15 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)
  • Panel 3: An Abolitionist Approach to Reimagine Child Welfare (2:15 – 3:45 pm)
    • Ashley Albert, Tiheba Bain, Elizabeth Brico, Bishop Marcia Dinkins, Kelis Houston, Joyc McMillan, Vonya Quarles, Lisa Songoi, Erin Miles Cloud, and Adina Marx-Arpadi, Impacted Mothers, Community Organizers, People of Faith, and Allied Advocates, Ending the Family Death Penalty; Building a World We Deserve
    • Josh Gupta-Kagan, Professor, University of South Carolina School of Law, Brianna Harvey, MSW, PhD studnt, UCLA School of Education, Urban Schooling Division, Program Director Bruin Guardian Scholars Program, Christopher E. Church, Judicial Consultant, Fostering Court Improvement, Reimagining Schools' Role Outside the Family Regulation System
    • Clara Presler, Supervising Attorny, Family Defense Practice, The Bronx Defenders, Mutual Deference Between Hospitals and Courts: How Mandated Reporting from Medical Providers Harms Families
    • Ashley Albert, Parent Partner/Birth Parent Advocate, and Amy Mulzer, Senior Attorney for Law and Appeals, Brooklyn Defender Services, Family Defense Practice, Adoption Cannot Be Reformed
    • Moderator: Ann Shalleck, Professor of Law and Carrington Shields Scholar, American University, Washington College of Law
  • “Coffee Break” (3:45 - 4:00 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)
  • Panel 4: From Reform to Abolition: Learning from Experience (4:00 – 5:30 pm)
    • Anna Arons, Acting Assistant Professor, Lawyering Program, NYU School of Law, An Unintended Abolition: Family Regulation During the Covid-19 Crisis
    • Bill Bettencourt, Senior Fellow, and Kristen Weber, Director of Equity, Inclusion, and Justice, Center for the Study of Social Policy, Differnt Year, Different Jurisdiction, but the Same Findings: Reforming Isn't Enough
    • Melissa Carter, Clinical Professor of Law and Executive Director of the Barton Child Law & Policy Center, Emory University School of Law, Christopher E. Church, Senior Director, Casey Family Programs, and Judge Ernestine S. Gray (ret.), Orleans Parish Juvenile Court, Louisiana [also co-authored by Vivek S. Sankaran, Clinical Professor of Law and Director, Child Advocacy Law Clinic and Child Welfare Appellate Clinic, University of Michigan Law School, The Beginning of the End: How Judicial Discipline Nearly Eliminated Foster Care in New Orleans
    • Matthew I. Fraidin, Professor of Law, University of the District of Columbia, David A. Clarke School of Law, and Shanta Trivedi, Clinical Teaching Fellow, Domestic Violenc Clinic, Georgetown University Law Center, A Role for Communities in Reasonable Efforts to Prevent Removal
    • Moderator: Nancy E. Dowd, University of Florida Distinguished Professor, David H. Levin Chair in Family Law, Fredric G. Levin College of Law, University of Florida
  • “Cocktail hour” (5:30 - 6:00 pm) (Breakout rooms available to meet with panelists and attendees)