CBS Sunday Morning Underscores Systemic Problems; Counsel for Kids is Part of the Solution

Earlier this week, CBS Sunday Morning news shared the experiences of Vanessa Peoples, Samantha Mungai, and their respective families, with the child protection system. 

The report underscored racial and economic injustice in the system and the impossible choices families often face. It also grappled with the fact that family separation often harms children. 

The majority of child protective services investigations are for neglect, not abuse. Professor Dorothy Roberts noted: “Neglect is usually confused with poverty. Neglect is defined by most states as parents failing to provide the resources children need… because parents can’t afford them.”

And black families are twice as likely as white families to be impacted by the system. 

The system is “responding to harm and inflicting an intervention on those children in a way that causes further harm,” according to Alan Detloff. 

Children have legal rights: the right to their families, the right to sibling connections, the right to be heard, the right to be safe, the right to education, and more.  

But a legal right, without the ability to enforce that right, is often useless. When the child protection system makes the wrong decision, or threatens a child’s rights, it often requires legal representation to address it. As Vanessa People’s family’s experience showed, the only recourse to address systemic flaws came through legal representation. 

We’ve heard the same from other individuals with lived experience in foster care.

However, 14 states still don’t guarantee legal representation for children experiencing the child protection system. The one person at the center of a case is the one person who doesn’t get their own attorney.

That means courts make vital decisions about a child’s life and future—where they will live, where they will go to school, what connection they will have with family—without hearing their voice. 

Counsel for kids also reduce unnecessary school moves, help kids exit the foster care system quicker, and promote racial equity by challenging disparate treatment and ensuring fair access to court and services, among other benefits.  

We need #Counsel4Kids to protect children’s rights, ensure their voices are heard, and help address systemic issues.