Loving mother Colyssa Stapleton is still trying to figure out where she went wrong. One night, when feeding her 7-month-old daughter Nevaeh, Stapleton realized she was out of formula. She texted Naveah’s father, who lived nearby, and asked him to buy some. He texted back and confirmed he was en route, so Stapleton ran to the yard of her Brooklyn apartment to wait for him. She stumbled upon her aunt, who was in the yard smoking marijuana. The two were together for only moments before police swarmed and charged both women with possession.
Stapleton wasn’t smoking and protested that she couldn’t get in the police car because her infant daughter was upstairs by herself. The police accused her of endangering the welfare of a child and stripped Nevaeh away; the state placed her in foster care.
According to the New York Times from July 21, 2017, data shows that what happened to Stapleton is happening to black mothers across the country. A devastating cycle, known as the Jane Crow phenomenon, criminalizes black mothers for minor offenses by taking their children and placing them into foster care.
These kids bounce around in foster care while their mothers wait for legal representation or for charges to be dismissed. This is no ordinary legal procedure that puts children in foster care to protect them from neglect or abuse, it is just the opposite.
The Jim Crow laws emerged after slavery. They segregated black from white America, and Jane Crow is Jim’s ugly sister.
The Jane Crow phenomenon specifically targets black women. In the process, black women become labeled as inherently negligent mothers.
Scott Hechinger, a lawyer at Brooklyn Defender Services told aforementioned New York Times: “There’s this judgment, that black single mothers are too stupid and uneducated to make good decisions for their kids.”
This reveals a paradox. On one hand, society holds black mothers to a higher standard, expecting them to show strength, ignore racism, and in the case of Jane Crow, raise kids in low-income homes. Though on the other hand, the moment a black mother shows weakness or if she uses a more culturally black parenting technique like spanking, she is immediately labeled negligent, if not abusive.
While the Jane Crow foster system has long-lasting impacts on women, it is just as traumatizing for the child.
The Children and Youth Services Review, May 2017, reveals that a black child is three times more likely to be put in foster care than any other race, and often with little to no evidence of abuse or neglect.
Science Daily of Oct. 17, 2016 explains these children show alarming rates of mental and physical health crises, “ranging from learning disabilities, developmental delays and depression to behavioral issues.”
What makes Jane Crow foster distinct from traditional foster is that months or even years down the road, the mothers are cleared of wrongdoing and charges are dropped. So, the kids go through this trauma for no reason at all.
The leading cause that drives the Jane Crow Phenomenon can be linked to social worker bias.
Numerous studies reveal that caseworkers, judges and doctors judge black parents much more harshly than white parents.
In the essay of University of Pennsylvania law professor Dorothy Roberts titled “Race and Class in the Child Welfare System” explains, “A recent study of Philadelphia hospital records found that black and Latino toddlers hospitalized for fractures were five times more likely to be evaluated for child abuse, and more than three times more likely to be reported to child protective services than white children with the same injuries.”
The Los Angeles Times notes, social workers have been trained in a biased system, so they are more likely to behave in biased ways.
In tragic testimony, Roberts adds, “If you came to any child dependency court in Chicago, LA or New York you would leave thinking its purpose was to monitor, regulate and tear apart black families.”
The very policies that were implemented to protect families now have the opportunity to destroy them.