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In the Child Welfare System, Black Families Should Matter


Steve Volk |

Reimagining a foster care system that errs on the side of protecting children, but disproportionately investigates and punishes Black families more for economic hardship than harm.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part One of a two-part series in the “Our Kids” reporting project. Our Kids is a project of the Broke in Philly reporting collaborative that examines the challenges and opportunities facing Philadelphia’s foster care system. (See also Part Two, “Can Racial Bias Be Corrected in the Child Welfare System?”)

Shortly after Christmas, Kyeesha Lamb’s baby boy fell out of bed. She and her boyfriend had co-slept with the four-month-old child that night and awakened to his crying.

Quickly, Lamb picked the child up from the hardwood floor, soothed him back to sleep, checked on him in the night, and by morning, the experience looked like an inexpensive lesson: the baby showed no ill effects at all. Over the next couple of days, however, Lamb noticed her son used his right arm very little and sometimes held it tightly to his side. “He didn’t seem to be in any pain unless we tried to move his arm around,” she says, “but I didn’t like it.”

Lamb, 24, was already raising another boy, just 16 months old, and knew to keep a close watch on the newborn, to see if he improved. But over the next few days, he continued favoring the arm and even went through an odd crying episode — a spell that convinced Lamb she needed to take him to the hospital.

The staff at Children’s Hospital of Pennsylvania asked her what happened, appeared supportive, and then informed her that the doctor had ordered a full skeletal x-ray.

Shortly after that, the tone of the visit changed. The radiologist discovered two possible injuries — a break in the baby’s arm, which appeared consistent with the fall Lamb described; and a possible second break in her baby’s leg, too, which looked older. Lamb could not explain that second potential injury. There had been no earlier accident.

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