By Shaneen Moore, MBA, ABD, Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Children and Family Services, Child Support Division, Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS)
Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021 and recently became a Minnesota state recognized holiday in 2022. Initially in Minnesota, the new state holiday law was set to go into effect on August 1, 2023, however, special provisions within an omnibus bill during this year’s legislative session allowed for the new holiday to go into effect this June 19.
The celebration of Juneteenth is understanding the history and recognizing the symbolism. This date commemorates the recognized ending of slavery in Galveston, Texas after Union troops arrived with the news of the Emancipation Proclamation, which originally was issued in 1863. However, the last of those four million enslaved people did not become free until 1865, two years after the issuance. Therefore, the holiday holds significance in our history as, “The symbolism of Juneteenth is the transition from slavery to freedom” (Wise, 2023).
Juneteenth and the legacy of slavery hold significant impacts on African American families today, including Black family systems and their representation within the child welfare system. Built on paternalistic views and values of the White nuclear family, the legacy of slavery created a devastating effect on African American families that is evident even today. The establishment of dominant cultural norms and practices, over time, has shifted a system that protected White children to one that separates Black children from their families and communities (Cantey, et al., 2022).
There are three distinct areas within the history of the child protection system: Colonial times to 1875, 1875 to 1962, and 1962 to present. From a historical perspective dating back to slavery, Black mothers, fathers, and children were separated often for profit at the will of slaveholders and their benefactors. During colonial times, the child welfare system operated solely for providing support to White children and was never intended for Black children and families. By the 1800s, the intentional separation of Black families was endorsed by local and state law, with reunification often forbidden unless it proved beneficial to the slave owner (Cantey, et al., 2022).
In decades prior to the Civil War, slave traders allowed for two-thirds of a million estate sales, in which 25% of those sales were destructive to marriages and 50% destroyed nuclear Black families, many separating children under the age of 13 from their parents (Hunter, 2021). In 1912, the federal Administration for Children and Families’ Children’s Bureau was formed for the purpose of investigating the maltreatment and support for White children who were impoverished, abandoned, or orphaned, discounting the needs of Black children and families (Sampson, 2010 as cited by Cantey, et al., 2022). Today however, African American children are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system. One critical rule helped to solidify the historical context for modernizing the child welfare system and its impact on Black children and families as it exists today, and that is the Flemming Rule.
The Flemming Rule created a long-standing practice of serious consequences for African American children and families. It served as a social control and means in which to create surveillance mechanisms under the guise of child protection (Cantey, et al., 2022). To combat discriminatory practices, if a home was declared “unsuitable” the state had to provide service interventions and could no longer ignore the family or expel them from AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) rolls. In combination with AFDC policies and child welfare services, denied benefit access to African American families through the implementation of morality tests and other standards imposed against them by social workers as there were no set standards at the federal level, leaving open the subjective determination and opinions of AFDC caseworkers. Caseworkers often invaded the homes of Black families during midnight raids to determine if a man lived in the home or the mother had additional children born out-of-wedlock. On its face, the Flemming Rule served as a response to discriminatory practices. In contrast, however, it opened the door for the interpretation of home “suitability”, the scrutiny of Black mothers’ suitability to parent and maintain homes, and the ability to “properly” care for their children.
As a result of the Flemming Rule, home suitability was expanded upon; creating more reasons for application denials, and AFDC workers emphasizing removal of children from their homes based on “neglectful” conditions. Many states intentionally chose to opt out of preserving Black families and often separated children from families, recreating similar actions that took place during slavery. The 1962 Public Service Amendments and the Flemming Rule incentivized the removal of children and created a situation where African American families could not withdraw from once the label of “neglect” was placed upon them. This act of oppressive inclusion in tandem with racialized poverty contributed to the increased presence of African American families within the child welfare system (Lawrence-Webb, 1997).
This timeline demonstrates the history of child welfare policy alignment with social policy and federal regulations enacted from 1619 to 2022. From “30 Years of Knowledge Building for an Effective Kin-First Culture: A Natural Family Resource for Children in and out of the Child Welfare System” by Sharon McDaniel, Ph.D., EdD, MPA. Copyright 2022 by A Second Chance, Inc., Kinship Insight Solutions LLC. A larger version of this timeline is located here.
Poverty serves as a key risk factor for child protective services (CPS) involvement which substantially impacts large numbers of Black families due to past and present systemic racism. Racialized poverty results in Black families facing more punitive regulation across numerous systems including CPS involvement and initial reports of maltreatment, investigation decisions and those which to substantiate, and the ability for family reunification (Thomas, Waldfogel, & Williams, 2022).
Taking race out of the subjective process is important in improving child welfare outcomes for Black families and transforming the system. Dr. Jessica Pryce shares a promising solution to helping child welfare professionals conduct more biased-free assessments in her Ted Talk, To transform child welfare, take race out of the equation. Dr. Pryce and her team conducted a study in New York State that identified racial disproportionality harmful practices and sought to investigate key factors that helped to significantly reduce it within two specific counties (Pryce, et al., 2019). Key findings amongst other strategies are discussed below in ways to improve outcomes for Black families.
In summary, there are other ways in which we can make systematic change to separate ourselves from the legacy of removing Black children from their families. One way is in the implementation of anti-poverty policy that lowers the instances for low-income families of color and their involvement in child welfare. Creating more expansive TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) policy and the use of funding could substantially change the outcomes for Black families. Secondly, using data through a racial equity lens framework is solution focused, challenges dominant culture views and helps to dismantle racial structures benefitting Black families, challenges practitioners, community partners and helps uplift the needs of Black families. Third, the sharing of decision-making power that supports Black families is important and must be utilized along with anti-racism processes and practices. Sharing the power with Black constituents, families, and practitioners helps improve overall outcomes for Black families. Fourth, it is important to create psychologically safe practices for Black practitioners who often have lived experiences and trauma associated with the child welfare system and often feel unsafe in their efforts to uplift the anti-racist work within this space. Black practitioners are often asked to remove their consideration of cultural dynamics when faced with the difficulties of removing children; in essence separating themselves from the work, which is often very burdensome and difficult to do. Finally, it is of great importance to train and retain an equitable child welfare workforce, which is what we are being called to do in the work of the Minnesota Child Welfare Training Academy.
According to Brown (2018), “If we want people to fully show up, to bring their whole selves including their unarmored, whole hearts—so that we can innovate, solve problems, and serve people—we must be vigilant about creating a culture in which people feel safe, seen, heard, and respected (p.13). It is important for us to be mindful of how we show up every day and why the focus of race matters to the work of child welfare and in working towards better outcomes for Black families.
To learn more about Juneteenth, and the legacy of slavery and its impact on child welfare practices in the United States, here are other resources for consideration:
- 156 Years Later, Juneteenth’s ‘First Scholarly Book’ Explores Underresearched History, by Laura Rice. Link to article.
- Juneteenth: The Story Behind the Celebration, by Edward T. Cotham. Link to book.
- On Juneteenth, by Annette Gordon-Reed. Link to book.
- Juneteenth: The History of a Holiday, by Derrick Bryson Taylor. Link to article.
- EJI Racial Injustice Calendar Link to article.
- 30 Years of Knowledge Building for an Effective Kin-First Culture: A Natural Family Resource for Children in and out of the Child Welfare System, by Sharon McDaniel, Ph.D., EdD, MPA. Link to article.
AFDC public assistance program is Aid to Families with Dependent Children that was in place before welfare reform in 1996.
TANF is the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. It was established under the 1996 welfare reform act known as PRWORA (Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act).
Brown, B. (2018). Dare to lead: Brave Work. tough conversations. whole hearts. Random House.
Cantey, N. I., Smith, L. W., Frazier Sorrells, S., Kelly, D., Jones, C., & Burrus, D. (2022). Navigating Racism in the Child Welfare System: The Impact on Black Children, Families, and Practitioners. Child Welfare, 100(2), 163-184.
Hunter, supra note 24, at 71 from the Columbia Journal of Race and Law, an article entitled, “Political-Economic Roots of Coercion—Slavery, NeoLiberalism, And The Racial Family Policy Logic Of Child And Social Welfare”, by Gwendoline M. Alphonso, July 2021, Vol. 11, No. 3.
Lawrence-Webb, C. (1997, January/February). African American Children in the Modern Child Welfare System: A Legacy of the Flemming Rule. Child Welfare, 76(1), 9-30. Retrieved from https://www.jstor.org/stable/45399315
Pryce, J., Lee, W., Crowe, E., Park, D., McCarthy, M., & Owens, G. (2019). A case study in public child welfare: county-level practices that address racial disparity in foster care placement. Journal of Public Child Welfare, 13(1), 35-59. doi:10.1080/15548732.2018.1467354
Thomas, M. M., Waldfogel, J., & Williams, O. F. (2022). Inequities in Child Protective Services Contact Between Black and White Children. Child Maltreatment, 0(0), 1-13. doi:10.1177/1077559521 1070248
Wise, Alan, Juneteenth, the newest federal holiday, is gaining awareness, MPR news, June 19, 2023.