CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Washington on The Family Regulation System

S. Lisa Washington (University of Wisconsin Law School) has posted Survived & Coerced: Epistemic Injustice in the Family Regulation System (Columbia Law Review (Forthcoming 2022)) on SSRN. Here is the abstract:
Calls to defund the police in the summer of 2020 were quickly followed by calls to fund social service agencies. Some included the funding of the family regulation apparatus. These demands fail to consider the shared carceral logic of the family regulation and criminal legal system. I utilize the term family regulation system to more accurately describe the surveillance apparatus that is commonly referred to as the "child welfare system". By using this term, I highlight that the family regulation system not only intersects with but mirrors the criminal legal system. The general premise of the family regulation system is that it is non-adversarial and rehabilitative, geared towards child safety. In practice, involved parents, including survivors of domestic violence, encounter an intrusive, disempowering surveillance system. The removal of children and extensive supervision mechanisms operate as powerful coercion tools, especially for survivors, who may find the state actively engaging in unwanted family separation. Family regulation cases, which already disproportionately affect Black and Brown families, further perpetuate the subjugation of marginalized experiences. Survivor narratives that do not align with the expectations of the family regulation system are discredited and instrumentalized to justify family separation, and even the termination of parental rights.

The effects of lengthy "Child Protective Services" (CPS) involvement on a family's life are rarely discussed in ways that center the experiences of marginalized domestic violence survivors and their individual, authentic knowledge and needs. The family regulation system depends on compelling Black and Brown families to participate in the reproduction of existing knowledge to legitimize its purported goal of child safety. This system, ostensibly there to protect children, facilitates harmful knowledge production by coercing false narratives and excluding alternate knowledge. This article analyzes knowledge production within the family regulation system through the framework of epistemic injustice theory. Epistemic injustice theory examines how hegemonic power structures discredit and subjugate marginalized knowledge. I make the novel argument that the concept of a survivor's "lack of insight" into their own abuse is a form of epistemic injustice. The cycle of subjugating marginalized knowledge is embedded in a carceral power structure that pathologizes poor mothers and labels them "weak" and "dependent". I argue that the dismantling of epistemic injustice will require more than mere counter-narratives. In response to the current reckoning with carceral systems, a growing social movement led by directly impacted parents, demands an end to their silencing and the crediting of their knowledge.

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