FIJ Quarterly - Spring 2022 Edition

“Like a Trap”: Mandatory Reporting and Dilemmas of Help-Seeking Kelley Fong They’ll help me along the way to let me know, oh, they’re on my side. But once they see something wrong with my baby, CPS is like 911. They’re definitely gonna call. – “Christina,” Providence, RI Introduction

I really wanna risk if they feel as though I’m not taking care of my baby according to their book?” Nearly 70 percent of reports to CPS come from professionals like doctors, teachers, social services staff, and therapists, who collectively file well over one million reports each year. 6 These professionals are the very systems we hope will support children and families. ______________ 1 All names used are pseudonyms. Christina was previously “Lisa” in Kelley Fong, “Concealment and Constraint: Child Protective Services Fears and Poor Mothers’ Institutional Engagement,” Social Forces 97, 4 (2019): 1785–1810. Since then, she decided she preferred a different pseudonym. This research presented in this article was supported by the Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy at Harvard University, the Julius B. Richmond Fellowship from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being, and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. 2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [HHS], The Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program Brief (2021). 3 HHS, Home Visiting Program Brief . 4 Lawrence M. Berger and Jane Waldfogel, “Economic Determinants and Consequences of Child Maltreatment,” OECD Social, Employment, and Migration Working Papers, No. 111 (OECD Publishing, 2011); Frank Edwards et al., “Contact with Child Protective Services Is Pervasive but Unequally Distributed by Race and Ethnicity in Large U.S. Counties.” PNAS 118, 30 (2021): e2106272118; Kelley Fong, “Neighborhood Inequality in the Prevalence of Reported and Substantiated Child Maltreatment,” Child Abuse & Neglect 90 (2019): 13–21; HHS, Child Maltreatment 2019. 5 Hyunil Kim et al. “Lifetime Prevalence of Investigating Child Maltreatment Among U.S. Children,” American Journal of Public Health 107, 2 (2017): 274–80. 6 HHS, Child Maltreatment 2019 (2021).

In the weeks after 21-year-old Christina’s baby was born—her first child—she kept getting phone calls from hospital staff and social service providers. 1 They were encouraging Christina to accept “home visiting” services, in which a nurse or social worker would come to her home to offer parenting information and guidance. Home visiting is a major national strategy to improve maternal and child health and well-being, receiving at least $400 million annually in federal funding and aimed at serving low-income families just like Christina’s. 2 But Christina declined. “No, no thank you, that’s okay. I’ll just, you know, take care of my kid by myself,” she recalled replying—not because she saw little value in the service, but because she knew it came with risks. Research links home visiting programs to reduced child abuse and neglect and improved child health and development. 3 Yet, as with other service providers families encounter, home visiting staff are legally mandated to report suspected child abuse and neglect to state Child Protective Services (CPS) authorities. These reports are commonplace, especially in Black, Native American, and low-income communities. 4 One in three children nationwide, and one in two Black children, will be the subject of a CPS report during childhood. 5 Christina, a Black mother living in Providence, Rhode Island, had not yet been reported to CPS, and she wanted to keep it that way. So, she explained how she weighed the decision: “I always think of the good and the bad. The good is, they do help you. But the bad is, do

70 | FIJ Quarterly Spring 2022

Powered by