The Surveillance Tentacles of the Child Welfare System

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Charlotte Baughman
Tehra Coles
Jennifer Feinberg
Hope Newton


The family regulation system identifies families through the use of widespread, cross-system surveillance for the purported purpose of keeping children safe. But the system does not surveil all families equally, leading to the disproportionate impact of family regulation on Black, Brown, and Native families, and fails to protect while causing more harm to children and communities of color. We examine how institutions and professionals that are meant to provide necessary services to the community—medical providers, social services agencies, the police, and schools—act as tentacles of surveillance, entrapping families in the family regulation system. We argue that engineering service and community providers as surveillance agents perpetuates inequality and leads to unnecessary family separation and trauma, and that genuine support for families can only thrive outside of the family regulation system and its surveillance tentacles. 

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How to Cite
Baughman, C., Coles, T., Feinberg, J., & Newton, H. (2021). The Surveillance Tentacles of the Child Welfare System. Columbia Journal of Race and Law, 11(3), 501–532.