September 28, 2022

EP. 284 — Who Does America’s “Child Welfare System” Serve? with Professor Dorothy Roberts

Each year, more than 250,000 children in America are removed from their families by judicial means—and more than 3.5 million children are investigated by child welfare agencies. Most of these children are Black, Indigenous, queer, disabled, and / or otherwise marginalized. And much of the tens of billions of dollars allotted each year to so-called “child welfare” is spent on separating families. This week’s guest Dorothy Roberts joins Jonathan to discuss how this system operates; who it most harms; and what it has to do with mass incarceration, police brutality, and centuries’ worth of inequities in this country.


Dorothy Roberts is the George A. Weiss University Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania. She is a contributor to the 1619 Project book and the author of four books, including the best-selling Killing the Black Body. Her path breaking work in law and public policy focuses on urgent social justice issues in policing, family regulation, science, medicine, and bioethics.  She has been featured in countless media outlets including The New York Times, New York Magazine, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, Vice News, CNN, ABC, and many others. She lives in Philadelphia.

CW: This episode discusses police violence, bodily harm, and hateful rhetoric.

You can follow Dorothy on Twitter @DorothyERoberts. Her newest book, Torn Apart, is available now.


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Headshot Credit: Chris Crisman


Getting Curious with Jonathan Van Ness & Professor Dorothy Roberts JVN [00:00:00] Welcome to Getting Curious. I’m Jonathan Van Ness and every week I sit down for a gorgeous conversation with a brilliant expert to learn all about something that makes me curious. On today’s episode, I’m joined by Dorothy Roberts, where I ask her: is America’s foster care system really rooted in care? Welcome to Getting Curious. This is Jonathan Van Ness. I have such an exciting guest today who is an award-winning author, an expert on the interplay of gender, race and class and legal issues concerning reproduction, bioethics, and child welfare. She is also the author of Killing the Black Body, which I’m sure you’ve heard of. Welcome to the show, Dorothy Roberts, whose latest book is Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families and How Abolition Can Build a Safer World. Dorothy, thank you for doing, like, the Earth’s work and helping bring so much knowledge

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