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Dismantling the Carceral Ecosystem: Investigating the Role of “Child Protection” and Family Policing in Los Angeles

  • Author(s): Copeland, Victoria
  • Advisor(s): Franke, Todd M.
  • et al.

The National Association of Social Workers “Code of Ethics” states that social workers have a duty to ensure that families are treated with dignity, respect, and a right to self-determination. However, social workers often find themselves working in institutions that contradict these principles, one of which includes the “child welfare” system. In Los Angeles the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) markets themselves as the “largest child protection agency” in the United States and is responsible for ensuring the safety of over 2 million children. To “protect” children the system relies on the use of investigations, surveillance, and family separation processes. These processes have had significant generational impact on communities who are poor and Black, Latinx, or Indigenous. Due to this, several “child welfare” researchers are currently debating if the system should continue to exist in its current state, undergo drastic reformation, or cease to exist in its entirety. The current study attempts to add to this debate by seeking to better understand the context in which the system operates and its relation to the carceral state as described by system stakeholders and individuals impacted by the “child welfare” system in Los Angeles County. Using a Carceral Ecosystem framework the study begins to interrogate the discourse around “child protection” and how it has been used as justification for the involvement of families within the system, the proliferation of surveillance and surveillance technologies, and subsequent family separation. In further extending the Carceral Ecosystem framework, the study situates abolitionist praxis as perturbation event that encapsulates both imaginative possibility and realistic strategy towards a post-“Child Welfare” future.

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