Student-Athletes Make Billions for the NCAA. They Deserve A Seat On Its Board.

Last month, the Board of Governors of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) made headlines when it announced it would finally permit student-athletes to profit from their name, image, or likeness. While the decision prompted praise for the association, it also demonstrated an unsettling fact about college athletics – student-athletes often have little control over the association-wide policies that govern their own academic, economic, and bodily wellbeing. That needs to change.

The NCAA’s Board of Governors is the main body charged with developing and overseeing the policies that regulate more than 460,000 student-athletes across 1,200 institutions. The board is comprised of 25 (mostly male) college and university presidents, athletic directors, and other professionals, such as former White House chief of staff Dennis McDonough and billionaire businessman Kenneth Chennault. While the board’s decisions often directly affect the lives of student-athletes, student-athletes do not have a say in the selection of board members or a vote in association-wide matters. As a result, they must depend entirely on individual board members having their best interests at heart. But evidence suggests that may not always be the case.

Student-athletes work tirelessly to perform at the highest levels of athletic competition while simultaneously endeavoring to graduate on time and prepare for future careers. Their efforts generated more than $1 billion for the NCAA and its member institutions in the 2016-17 school year alone. But while many coaches and commissioners took home seven- and even eight-figure salaries, student-athletes did not receive a penny of compensation beyond their scholarships, which do not always cover the full expenses associated with attending college.

The exploitation of student-athletes also produces serious adverse health outcomes, including debilitating knee and ankle injuries and chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. Many student-athletes, especially Black student-athletes who are often concentrated in high-profile, revenue-generating sports, such as football and basketball, also struggle to graduate on time. It does not need to be this way.

In an ideal world, the NCAA would empower student-athletes to unionize and bargain collectively for safer working conditions, better health care benefits, improved academic and professional opportunities, and even compensation. But given the NCAA’s recent history of union busting and refusal to recognize student-athletes as employees, it appears unlikely that the organization would take such a step voluntarily. However, they can and should still provide student-athletes with a formal voice in their association-wide decision-making process by expanding the Board of Governors to include current student-athletes.

Reserving seats for student-athletes on the Board of Governors would guarantee the NCAA considers their concerns and perspectives at the highest levels of governance.

Their bodies, futures, and even their lives are on the line.

Expanding the Board of Governors is not unprecedented. In the wake of the 2017 NCAA corruption scandal, in which the federal government brought fraud and bribery charges against multiple college basketball coaches, the association added five independent voting members to its board to bolster public trust, increase the diversity of perspectives, and “help ensure the future health and well-being” of its student-athletes. These additions included Grant Hill, who played basketball at Duke 25 years ago and now owns the Atlanta Hawks.

Some could argue current student-athletes may have fresh ideas on how to ensure the health and wellbeing of student-athletes, but they were conspicuously absent from the list of new members.

Providing student-athletes with decision-making authority is not unprecedented. As recently as 2015, the NCAA yielded to pressure from student-athletes by providing them with limited voting powers on the divisional level. Today, they play an important role in Division I, Division II, and Division III governance, including decisions about championship administration, sport oversight, and strategic planning. Student-athletes also serve on several association-wide advisory committees. But they are excluded from the Board of Governors, which approves and monitors the NCAA’s budget, initiates and settles litigation, and establishes policies that affect the entire association.

The Board of Governors reluctantly took an important step towards ending rampant exploitation in college athletics when it voted to allow student-athletes to profit from their own name, image, or likeness. But the vote was long overdue and could easily have gone the other direction. This decision came in the wake of mounting public pressure, including statewide legislation in California and pending legislation in the U.S. congress. Student-athletes have a personal stake in association-wide matters. Their bodies, futures, and even their lives are on the line – they deserve a voice in the decision making process. It’s time to end their systematic disenfranchisement.



For D.C. Parents, School Chaperoning Is Pay to Play

If you’re a parent with a student in Washington D.C.’s public schools and you want to chaperone your child’s field trips or volunteer in their classroom, be prepared to invest hours and dollars before you arrive. DCPS’s volunteer policy is intensive, and requires any prospective volunteer — including primary caregivers — to provide, at their own expense, a criminal background check, tuberculosis test, and fingerprints.

Some parents and members of the State Board of Education have expressed concerns about how the process puts up barriers for low-income families, families with limited transportation, and immigrant families that are already on high alert under the Trump administration.

In a Twitter thread, Julie Lawson, a parent of a third grader in the district and PTA president of her son’s school, described roadblocks in the volunteer clearance process. The TB test costs $60 and is not covered by insurance. The single location that offers fingerprinting services for the district is located downtown and is only open during normal business hours, when working parents may have to take time off to go. “All of this is a major access barrier for a parent who wants to chaperone their kid’s field trip,” she said.

A traditional TB test takes 48 hours and requires two separate visits — one to take the test and the other to have results read. Lawson has spent a lot of time reminding parents of the cost, where to go, and how to coordinate and communicate with health care providers — some of whom don’t want to give the test to their patients without risk factors present.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends TB screening for those who have been in close contact with TB, those who have traveled to countries with a high prevalence of the disease, people who live or work in high risk settings, health care workers, and children who have been exposed to adults with TB. According to the CDC website, “TB tests are generally not needed for people with a low risk of infection with TB bacteria.”

So, why does DCPS require it for volunteers? Jessica Sutter, a member of the State Board of Education, who has fielded concerns from parents about the policy, and who asked the district directly, says she’s still unsure. She says the district told her that they were operating on a Department of Health directive that required proof of a negative TB test of all DCPS employees, volunteers, and contractors.

Further, Sutter says, the district told her that free TB tests were going to be provided at the Tuberculosis and Chest Clinic, a clinic that provides diagnostic and medical management of persons who have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having TB. But after visiting their website, which states that they do not perform routine TB screening, such as those for job or school admission, Sutter says that does not appear to be the case.

“At DC Public Schools (DCPS), the safety and security of our students is our top priority. Fingerprint-based FBI background checks are required by law, and as of this time, proof of a negative Tuberculosis (TB) test is required of all DCPS employees, volunteers, and contractors per guidance from the DC Department of Health,” said DCPS in a statement. “Balancing the safety, health and security of our students with the need to create a welcoming environment for all families in our school buildings as partners in their child’s success is critically important. DCPS is reviewing the TB and fingerprinting policy for parent volunteers to seek out opportunities to provide more flexibility and partnership with family members whenever possible.”

Different school districts around the country have different approaches to volunteer clearance. Some districts do require all of the same components as DCPS, but they also offer vouchers for free testing at local clinics or a tiered process, where the clearance requirements are commensurate with the level of involvement. Many districts require only a background check or a background check and fingerprinting.

This is more than an inconvenience, it's an equity issue.
– Emily Gasoi

School districts need a clear understanding of who is volunteering, of course, but without putting up barriers to family engagement. While Becky Reina, founding chair of the Ward 1 Education Council, a volunteer organization that advocates for public schools in the ward, describes the fingerprinting as easy, with a short wait, she’s quick to acknowledge that entering a government building that requires signing in with a government issued ID is something that could cause anxiety for some parents. “Given the hostile immigration environment parents are living with under the Trump administration, no amount of reassurance will satisfy much of D.C.’s immigrant community,” she said.

Emily Gasoi, a State Board of Education member, representing families in Ward 1, said the fingerprinting piece is driving a lot of the fear among some families. She first became aware of parental concerns about the DCPS policy through school and PTO meeting visits, where she repeatedly heard from constituents that the process, while onerous for everyone, presented a particular deterrent for families with insecure immigration statuses and those unable to afford the costs associated with the process.

“This is more than an inconvenience, it’s an equity issue,” said Gasoi. While Gasoi understands the need for a clearance process that keeps students safe, she suggests there could be more equitable ways of clearing volunteers and that the district consider different policies for different levels of volunteers.

For her part, Lawson spent dozens of hours coordinating with a handful of nearby schools to have a fingerprinting unit stationed in the schools’ neighborhood for a day. In order for the district to send the unit, though, a minimum number of applicants who had already completed the online background check and TB test had to sign up.

In the end, only 16 applicants out of 40 who initiated the process completed fingerprinting. While some parents said they completed the fingerprinting on their own time, Lawson said that for most, she couldn’t confirm an appointment because she never received a TB result.

The benefits of having a child’s primary caregiver involved at their school are numerous. Research shows family engagement results in improved student achievement, reduced absenteeism, and better grades, test scores, and behavior. Sutter says, “We absolutely want every child in the care of our schools to be kept safe, but whose responsibility is that, financially? And how do we make this accessible rather than burdensome in such a way that it will discourage especially low-income families from participating?”

This piece has been updated to add a statement from DCPS.



First Person

In the Child Welfare System, Somebody’s Always Watching You

When you become involved in the child welfare system, you learn one lesson quickly: All eyes and ears are on you. Even those relationships that are supposed to be therapeutic, such as counseling, transform into something else. Providers must earn your honesty, and even once they do, that dynamic can become instantly dashed with one report to your caseworker.

I learned this early on in my case, which began in April 2018. The services required for me to reunify with my daughters included trauma-based individual therapy, a psychological assessment, substance use treatment, and parenting classes. I remember going to the first of these, my psychological assessment, and spending 20 minutes in the office arguing over paperwork.

In order to complete the mandatory assessment, I had to sign a consent form that would allow the assessors to send their findings to child services. But when I asked what their “findings” included, it was not simply a diagnosis or treatment recommendations. Instead, it could be the full readout of the evaluation.

Everything I said during this invasive and highly personal evaluation would be sent to my caseworker, his boss, the state attorney, the guardian ad litem and her attorney, my attorney, my husband’s attorney (and by proxy my husband), and the judge. Any time my caseworker was changed, which had happened once already and would happen two more times, the new stranger would also be privy to the contents of my psychological evaluation.

But the service was mandated. Without this evaluation, I was not allowed to engage in therapy, substance use treatment, or parenting classes. So I had to do it.

This is standard fare for families involved with the child welfare system. It focuses on the collection of parents’ information, and control over what those parents do and how they behave, not, as proponents of the system fervently claim, on ensuring the safety of children. Like probation and parole, child welfare involvement becomes one more way for the government to keep tabs on people.

As it would turn out, the report would not be a transcript of my evaluation. Rather, it was an interpretation, in which the evaluator handpicked which details to include. She described me as eccentrically dressed. (I had worn a floral dress and flats, but have visible tattoos and a facial piercing that can’t be removed.) She detailed that sometimes I answered questions right away, and sometimes I paused to answer them, which sounds normal enough but seemed sinister and awkward when inserted in the context of the psychological evaluation. She wrote that I suffered from insomnia, even though I’d repeatedly told her I was tired on that day specifically because I was worried about my husband, who had been hospitalized earlier that week. She generalized my history with drug use to make it appear that I had been addicted to heroin since I was a teenager, which is not the case.

In the end, the recommendations didn’t include anything besides the talk therapy I’d already been mandated to take — but the inclusion of all her other highly subjective details handed my opposition a slew of quotes they could use to describe me as eccentric, erratic, and ill-equipped to handle the daily realities of parenting.

It was an evaluation I had no choice but to attend, which should have been a doorway to resources and help for my PTSD. Instead, it served as an intelligence-gathering exercise for the people separating me from my two young daughters.

Other parents have experienced similar issues with the services that are supposedly in place to help them. Kim, a mother in Alabama who asked that her last name not be shared, has been involved with child services since January 2019. Kim’s case was triggered by her arrest when she failed to appear for a court date, but she says the crime she is accused of was actually committed by her abusive partner, who forced her to take the blame by threatening her life.

When her caseworker learned Kim was experiencing domestic violence, she told Kim to move into a shelter. Which she did, but only for about a month. She said the shelter had stringent rules, which included nightly curfews and that she report her whereabouts when she left the grounds.

Kim was never told by the shelter that this information was shared with her caseworker, but she figured it out when her caseworker suddenly knew details only the shelter had. “She knew my comings and goings there. Knew when I met with the therapist, left for work; all of it,” Kim said.

“The sheer fact and status of having a child places you in a situation where you can no longer openly and honestly express what’s happening in your life to mandated reporters because you’re facing family dissolution, or, at minimum, family surveillance,” said Erin Miles-Cloud, a former parent defense attorney in New York who is now the co-founder for Movement for Family Power, a parent advocacy group. Exactly who falls under the category “mandated reporter” varies by state, but they are typically frontline workers such as nurses, doctors, therapists, and teachers, who are required by law to report any suspicions of child maltreatment. She specifically cites shelters, hospitals, and schools as some of the “biggest offenders” when it comes to reporting parents who are seeking care to child services.

While speaking with me for a story I wrote for Filter Mag about the way child services targets parents who use drugs, a nurse named Tracy Longbreak told me about her experience with the “mandatory” aspect of mandated reporting. When a mother came into her emergency department with her baby while smelling of marijuana but appearing prepared, competent, and tidy, Longbreak was told by her superiors that she had to call in the report or risk her job.

She knew my comings and goings there. Knew when I met with the therapist, left for work; all of it.

Ultimately, the best she could do was include her perceptions of the mother in her report and hope that her positive remarks would offset the accusation of neglect via marijuana intoxication (which was not yet legal in the state of Oregon, but is now).

“In North Carolina, the mandatory reporting law is around any abuse that may have taken place by the caregiver,” said Julie Owens, a survivor of domestic violence who now consults with organizations around the country advocating better practices for people who have experienced violence in the home. “The protective parents who go into domestic violence shelters—primarily mothers—are not the abuser, but unfortunately they are reported as or regarded as abusers because they haven’t reported the abuse that their children have been experiencing, and they often end up being punished or deprived of their children as a result of this.”

Put together, this all means that service providers can be forced to act as eyes and ears for child services, even when they don’t want to. But more reports doesn’t equal more child safety. In Philadelphia, for example, mandated reporting laws were drastically expanded after the Penn State child sex abuse scandal. In an article published in Pediatrics in 2017, Mical Raz wrote that “there is no indication that the increase in reporting has improved the safety of Philadelphia’s children, and there is reason to believe it may detract.” Some of these detractions included increased hotline calls resulting in an overburdened system less able to make accurate safety assessments, and a heightened risk of family separation for low-income families. Later Raz noted that “fear of reporting may prevent families from seeking help, whereas assurance of confidentiality has been shown to increase help-seeking behaviors.”

The majority of substantiated maltreatment charges in the child welfare system are for neglect, which typically means issues like lack of food, child care, or weather-appropriate clothing – things that could be fixed with better social supports or a little more money. Creating a system that encourages families to seek help should be the goal for any agency in pursuit of children’s health and safety.

But forcing more and more providers and even laypeople to report on parents whether they want to or not achieves the exact opposite of that goal. Instead, it creates a cyclical, hypocritical system in which parents are afraid to seek assistance for fear of being punished because of the issue for which they need help, then punished for not seeking that help on their own. It also harbors distrust in therapeutic situations, which renders impossible any kind of genuine recovery.

The network of surveillance that child welfare-involved parents become trapped inside will continue to harm families like mine until it is lifted and parents are allowed to seek help and engage with services without simultaneously leaking the most intimate details of their lives.




A City in California Gave Land Back to Indigenous People. It’s a Start.

On Oct. 21, the northern California city of Eureka returned more than 200 acres of land on Duluwat Island to the Wiyot Tribe, the Indigenous inhabitants of the area. The land — which represents the physical and cultural center of the universe for Wiyot peoples — was taken during a massacre of the tribe’s women, children, and elders in 1860.

This massacre, followed by subsequent relocation to Fort Humboldt, resulted in the death of nearly one half of the pre-contact Wiyot population — estimated at close to 2,000 people. Today, the tribe has returned to near its ancestral territory, after long legal fights to gain federal recognition, with close to 600 Wiyot people living locally.

Eureka’s return is believed to be the first time a local government has returned land to a tribe in the U.S. Eureka City Council member Kim Bergel described the return as “the right thing to do.”

Eureka’s actions are significant politically, spiritually, and also economically. While Duluwat Island is relatively small, returning the land takes the tiniest step towards rectifying the injustices that the United States has committed towards Wiyot peoples. It signifies a desire to help Wiyot peoples rebuild their community and nation after centuries of dispossession and genocide.

From 1776 to 1887, the United States transferred nearly 1.5 billion acres of land into American control. Initially, this was done through treaty and executive order or through forcible removal of Indigenous peoples from their homelands, often putting them on reservations. While this made up the majority of land seizures, the seizure of land also included the 1887 Dawes Act, otherwise known as Allotment, which sought to individualize Indian land ownership, converting Indigenous peoples into models of homesteading farmers. The Act would cause Indigenous-controlled land to go from 138 million acres in 1887 to just 48 million acres by 1934.

The seizure of lands and territories and the creation of reservations is a significant reason why Indigenous communities have such concentrated poverty in the United States. Imagine being forced to move from the only home you have ever known to a place you have never been, with fewer resources to succeed there, and then being told that the lifestyle that has helped you prosper is “uncivilized,” and that to survive, you need to embrace a completely new worldview. Not exactly a model for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For many, the taking of land coincided with an effort to eradicate Indigenous peoples in general. Peter Burnett, the first governor of California, remarked as such when he told the nascent legislature in 1851 “that a war of extermination will continue to be waged between races, until the Indian race becomes extinct.”

To exterminate a whole group means not just the physical killing of a community. It means the destruction of a worldview, a home. This extermination created Allotment. It created boarding schools that sought to “kill the Indian, and save the man.” It created Indian termination policy, which sought to terminate tribes, relocating and assimilating Indigenous peoples. All of these American policies created the conditions for the intense poverty that Indigenous peoples face today.

The taking of land coincided with an effort to eradicate Indigenous peoples.

These processes of extermination have not resulted in the erasure of Indigenous peoples in the United States – far from it. They have altered the ways in which Indigenous peoples interact with the world, though. Cutcha Risling Baldy (Hupa/Yurok/Karuk), assistant professor of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University, notes two things in this regard: First, that the world that contemporary Indigenous peoples inhabit is a post-apocalyptic one. Second, that this post-apocalypse alters Indigenous peoples’ abilities to thrive socially, communally, politically, and economically. When your base mode of living for generations is mere survival, how can you imagine building anything beyond that?

The combination of both land seizure and eradication efforts has resulted in significant economic disparities for Indigenous peoples in the United States. The 2008 Census estimated that 30 percent of all American Indian/Alaska Native (AI/AN) peoples were in poverty. This reached 40 percent for those living on a reservation. Comparatively, the total U.S. population recorded a poverty rate of 16 percent. According to a 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the AI/AN unemployment rate was 7.8 percent. Comparatively, the total U.S. rate hovered around 4.4 percent.

This is what makes the return of Duluwat Island to Wiyot peoples so important. It acknowledges past wrongs, understands how the original seizure of land harmed generations irreparably, and tries to rectify that in a culturally, spiritually, politically, and economically significant way. In giving back the land, instead of Wiyot Tribe buying the land back as has happened previously, Eureka took a step towards conciliation.

While the United States has often tried to find alternative methods of compensation for Indigenous land, the federal government would do well to follow the example of Eureka and the Wiyot Tribe. Just give the land back.





State Laws Can Punish Parents Living in Abusive Households

One in four women in the United States will experience some form of intimate partner violence in her lifetime. For men, that number is one in nine. And 90 percent of kids affected by domestic violence will view the abuse firsthand, often by one parent against another.

These numbers are staggering. When you consider the impact of childhood trauma — which tells us that kids who experience or witness abuse are more likely to develop a slew of physical and mental illnesses as adults — those numbers are infuriating. And baffling. Domestic violence can be hard to escape, especially for those who have been in the mire of it for years, but once kids become involved, shouldn’t that be enough motivation to leave?

It’s this question, and the assumed answer, which drives “failure to protect” laws in child welfare programs across the United States. Essentially, failure to protect laws charge a parent with not doing enough to shield their child from witnessing or experiencing abuse. Virtually every state pursues some form of failure to protect charges within the civil child welfare system. These laws are aimed at the non-abusive parent living in an abusive household. Usually, the parent has been subject to intimate partner violence. But the laws can also be used in households in which the child is the victim of one parent but not the other.

While these laws were written with the intention of penalizing a parent who neglects the safety and/or well-being of their children, they all too often make unsafe environments even less safe by penalizing non-abusive parents living in an abusive household, and can become the basis for temporarily or permanently removing children from the home. They rarely leave room to consider the complexities of intimate partner violence, instead relying on assumptions and stereotypes that are incapable of capturing the nuanced reality of family bonds.

In January of 1999, Sharwline Nicholson decided to end her relationship with the father of her infant daughter. He lived in South Carolina, and had been crossing state lines each month to visit Nicholson and their daughter in New York. But when she ended the relationship, he responded with violence.

She called 911 and made arrangements with a friend for the care of her two children while she stayed overnight at the hospital. The next day, Nicholson was notified by the New York Administration of Children’s Services (ACS) that both of her children had been temporarily removed from her care on the basis that she had failed to protect them from witnessing the violence that had been inflicted upon her by her former partner. At the time, this was considered a form of neglect.

Nicholson would eventually win back custody of her children, but would be placed on a child maltreatment registry. This action kickstarted a lawsuit that would eventually lead the New York Court of Appeals to rule in 2004 that a parent’s inability to prevent a child from witnessing abuse could not be a sole factor for removing a child. Child welfare reform activists celebrated the decision.

“What Nicholson actually did was not just to change the attitude toward victims of domestic violence,” said David Lansner, a civil rights and family law attorney who represented the plaintiffs in the Nicholson case. “Neglect had to be shown as a serious matter; you had to show that … there was imminent danger of serious harm and not just the possibility of harm. … [Child services] and the court had to balance the harm that would result from removal against the risk of leaving the child at home, so you couldn’t just ‘take the safer course’ because removal was harmful to kids and shouldn’t be done unless it was really necessary.”

Unfortunately, New York is relatively unique in that respect; other states, lacking a case like Nicholson, still remove children for the possibility of harm that caseworkers and judges interpret by a parent’s “failure to protect” her children from being in a household where abuse takes place.

Erin Miles-Cloud, who formerly worked as a parent attorney in New York and is currently one of the co-founders of the advocacy group Movement for Family Power, explained the ways in which some of the better-resourced, urban systems can still fail families, even today. “Because New York has this middle ground of family shelters, ACS sees it as an unreasonable option to stay in a home where intimate partner violence is occurring,” she said.

What many people don’t realize is that — in New York City — parents who access a shelter as the result of domestic abuse will automatically be moved to a different borough, meaning a change in school district for their children, not to mention the loss of access to support networks, such as friends and family or trusted child care, lack of which can easily become another maltreatment charge. There’s also no guarantee as to what type of housing the family will receive or for how long. In some cases this could mean dormitory-style living for a year or longer, with no access to even a personal refrigerator.

But even the most comfortable, “home-like” shelters remain government-funded institutions — which means they come with restrictive rules, such as nightly curfews and rigid limits on how many days a parent can be away from the shelter, even to visit family. They are also a source of constant surveillance for the families housed inside. Miles-Clouds calls shelters and hospitals among the “largest offenders” when it comes to calling in new maltreatment reports, and notes that New York ACS often uses shelters as “second or third eyes on a family” when arguing a related case in court.

Because child welfare agencies self-report their data, and failure to protect  is not an independent maltreatment category in itself (these cases typically fall under the “neglect” umbrella), it is difficult to know exactly how many non-abusive parents end up being investigated because they were victims of abuse who sought help, or because their children reported being harmed by someone else in the household. But we do know that most states do not have even the mild protections enjoyed by families in New York. That means a child can be removed if the state convinces a judge they have been or will likely be psychologically harmed by witnessing the abuse.

Better-resourced, urban systems can still fail families, even today.

Some states will also pursue criminal charges against victims of intimate partner violence who have children in the home. In six states – Oklahoma, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, South Carolina and West Virginia – non-offending parents face potential life sentences for failure to protect charges, and in Texas the maximum penalty is 99 years. Last year, the Associated Press reported on the case of Tondalao Hall, a mother whose boyfriend was sentenced to two-years time served (meaning he had already completed his jail time while waiting to be sentenced) for beating her children, including a three-month-old infant. Hall, who was never accused of harming her kids, is currently serving 30 years in prison for not calling the authorities on her boyfriend.

Latagia Copeland-Tyronce, a parental rights advocate and the founder/executive director of the National African American Families First and Preservation Association who spoke to TalkPoverty about her experience, knows first-hand how devastating it can be to be accused of not protecting children from another person’s abuse. She first faced the traumatic confusion of a failure to protect charge in Toledo, Ohio, in 2013.

She was 26 years old and had been involved in an abusive relationship for 10 years. What she did not know, however, was that her daughters’ father was also sexually abusing her three eldest girls. When one of Copeland-Tyronce’s daughters finally disclosed the abuse to her sister, she promptly contacted child services.

Copeland-Tyronce immediately left her children’s father. She also cooperated with the criminal case that would ultimately land him a 30-year prison sentence. But this was not enough for Lucas County child protective services. They claimed she had known about the abuse and had failed to protect her children both from witnessing the violence perpetrated against her, and from the sexual abuse which they had experienced.

“My children never said that I knew anything or that I was involved in the abuse and I was never charged with a crime related to the case,” countered Copeland-Tyronce.

Less than a year after the initial removal, her parental rights were terminated and all six of her daughters were adopted to other families. When she gave birth to a son in 2014, by a different father and with stable housing in place, he was also removed from her custody.

“Because I had a [termination of parental rights] TPR, failure to protect, with my daughters. No other reason,” she said. At the time, the first TPR was still under appeal.

Candis Cassioppi, a mother based in Athens, Georgia, had her youngest child removed from her in the hospital after giving birth, she told TalkPoverty. The removal was prompted by an incident of assault by her child’s father perpetrated against her during her pregnancy.

Although she initially called the police and sought medical attention — causing those injuries to become part of her medical record — she ultimately declined to press charges or testify against her abuser. After her son’s birth, this incident became a reason to claim she was failing to protect her children from harm. Now, she is court-ordered to participate in a slew of activities, including domestic violence groups and parenting classes, in the hopes of regaining custody of her infant.

Like mandated reporting laws, which require certain professionals and institutions to report suspected child maltreatment, failure to protect laws and policies are in place, purportedly, to ensure that child maltreatment does not go unreported. “If a child dies in the home because there was a batterer who was so dangerous that the victim-partner couldn’t protect [the kids] … we’re still liable to make sure that the child stays safe,” explained Mary Nichols, a now-retired administrator at Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS), to the California Health Report in 2015.

But she also admitted in the same article that the laws are confusingly vague: “If you look up California Welfare and Institutions Code 300 and just read the definitions of ‘failure to protect,’ you can see how broad they are … [If] somebody would like to craft legislation to make it more workable, in terms of protections for domestic violence [victims], that would be great. It’s a pretty raw tool that we have.”

As the cases detailed in this article demonstrate, the reality of domestic abuse is far too complex to address with vague, generalized laws. Instead of protecting families, these blanket laws mean that parents who experience domestic violence may end up burdened by a fear of reprisal for reporting that violence. Take Cassioppi’s case, for example. Her baby was born healthy; had she not called the police and sought medical attention after being assaulted during her pregnancy, she likely would have walked out of the hospital with her newborn in arms. And Copeland-Tyronce now asserts that if she were to ever encounter intimate partner violence again, she would “not at all” feel safe calling the police for help.

Lansner said implementation and caseworker attitudes are major problems with the way domestic violence cases are handled within the child welfare system. “The caseworkers just don’t get it,” he said, adding, “the caseworker might go to the home, find the guy there in violation of a protection order and then remove the children instead of calling the police and having him arrested, which is what [the caseworker] should do.”

Parents who experience intimate partner violence also face a number of other complexities that caseworkers and judges don’t always take into consideration when charging these parents as culpable for traumatizing their kids by proxy. For example, one study found that 99 percent of domestic violence survivors had also been subject to economic abuse, a form of financial control that can leave them stranded without the resources necessary to secure independent housing or provide for their children’s basic needs. Because lack of appropriate shelter, clothing, and food also fall under the child services maltreatment category of “neglect,” this leaves many non-abusive partners trapped between the crosshairs of a failure to protect and a failure to provide charge. Either way, they’re ending up on the maltreatment registry for neglect.

By necessitating that caseworkers identify concrete harm toward a child before removing her from the home, New York has found a way to slightly balance a system designed to punish parents simply for being unfortunate enough to experience abuse. Although their system is far from perfect — as Miles-Cloud noted, it funnels parents into a less-than-ideal shelter system, and the law still does not address the caseworker bias that concerned Lansner — it provides a template which other states could use to begin the process of clarifying these laws.

Ideally, however, survivors of domestic violence should be met with compassion and provided with services that help their families heal and thrive intact. It seems, instead, that as long as failure to protect charges exist, the child welfare system will continue to promote a culture of secrecy surrounding intimate partner violence, thus validating the very abuse it claims to condemn.