By Antonio R. Harvey | OBSERVER Staff Writer

A large coalition of family rights advocates from across California converged on the Capitol on May 11 to ask lawmakers to dismantle and fix the state’s child welfare system.

Organized by California Families Rise (CFR), the Families Resist Rally and Protest March was staged to bring child welfare, and system-impacted families, together with allies from racial, reproductive and poverty justice movements.

CFR founder and director Michelle Chan told The OBSERVER that the advocates’ intent is to “empower noncustodial parents to participate in policy and budget decisions” to effectively “promote family unification and reunification.”

“The family policing system is too quick to remove children from parental custody, often on scant evidence and in violation of state and federal law,” Chan said. “It is incredibly traumatizing for children to lose everything they have ever known and love in the blink of an eye.”

CFR was founded in 2021, evolving out of a parents’ rights activist group that Chan started in 2017 called Parents Against CPS Corruption. Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) and poor families are “vulnerable and overrepresented” in the child welfare system, Chan said.

About 200 family advocates and family members impacted by the state’s child welfare system to their fight to lawmakers in hopes of reform. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

As of Jan. 1, 55,539 California children had open child welfare or probation-supervised placement within the Child Welfare Services (CWS) case management system, according to the California Child Welfare Indicators Project.

The project stated that at the beginning of this year, 1,855 children in Sacramento County are under supervised placement compared to 19,819 in Los Angeles County. In the Bay Area, Alameda, San Francisco, and Contra Costa counties had a combined 2,418 youth under supervision.

The CWS case management system is a statewide computer system that automates the case management, services planning, and information gathering functions of child welfare services for all 58 counties.

“I want (the legislature) to know that in this country, Black children account for only 14% of the (U.S.) population, 6% of California’s population, but represent nearly 25% of all Child Protective Services (CPS) cases,” Chan said at the rally. 

Leia Schenk, founder of Sacramento’s EMPACT, speaks at the Families Resist Rally and Protest March at the State Capitol. Schenk and fellow family advocates say that the child welfare systems in the state are ineffective. Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

CPS provides services to California’s abused and neglected children and their families. Its goal, as stated on the Department of Social Services’ website, is “to keep the child in his/her own home when it is safe, and when the child is at risk, to develop an alternate plan as quickly as possible.”

The safety measures are not always practiced by law, Chan said.

“The system is rooted in a history of state-sanctioned racial violence. In practice, the family regulation system shatters the lives of both children and adults by exposing families to long-lasting generational trauma, negatively impacting both the physical and mental health of all involved,” Chan said in a written statement issued before the rally.

“This is why we are putting the system on blast because it either needs to be abolished or, at the least, radically transformed,” Chan said.

The members of California Families Rise (CFR) say that family members and guardians of Black, indigenous, and children of color end up being investigated at a high rate in the state by Child Protective Services.  Antonio R. Harvey, OBSERVER

The rally at the Capitol included California EMPACT, POOR Magazine, and the Justice Reform Coalition. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, great-grandparents, and community advocates from up and down the state attended the event.

Their message was to urge California legislatures to take action to protect families from the oppressive practices at the center of the family regulation system. Speakers demanded a stop to separating families because of issues related to poverty and housing insecurity.

Leia Schenk, founder of EMPACT, a local organization that fights for the community’s “voiceless and often unseen,” was among supporters to speak on behalf of the families.

“CPS is intentionally targeting minority and marginalized families with the purpose of causing further harm and destruction to the family unit,” Schenk said. “From violating parental rights to failure to protect children under supervision, CPS has proven to be a capitalist entity that causes substantial trauma to our community and they must be held accountable for their malice.”