New York Coalition for Families, "Beyond the Best Interests of the Child Is Being Used to Legitimize the Destruction of Poor Black and Hispanic Families," mid-1970s


It is interesting to contrast this blunt critique of foster care as a system that destroys poor and minority families with Smith v. OFFER, 1977. In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court decided that foster parents had limited constitutional protections in comparison with birth parents, even in cases where psychological ties were strong and long-lasting. For an excerpt from the book being described here, see Joseph Goldstein, Anna Freud, and Albert J. Solnit, Beyond the Best Interests of the Child, 1973.

As a group of professionals working in the field of child welfare, social work, and law, we are deeply concerned with the uses to which psychiatry and psychoanalysis are being put under the influence of BEYOND THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD, by Goldstein, Freud and Solnit.

New York, like many states, uses foster care as its primary form of child welfare service to poor Black and Hispanic families. Poor parents in distress are not offered the supportive services they need to keep their families together; rather, they are induced to place their children in foster care as a form of “help”. The children are placed in agencies whose financial support depends on maintaining as many children as possible in foster care. These children and their parents are then but small cogs in the industry of foster care.

Once the parent places her child in foster care, that parent must confront every bureaucratic obstacle imaginable to see her own child, much less to regain custody of her own child. For example, the system systematically seeks to alienate children from their parents by severely restricting contact between them, by placing New York City children in rural and suburban foster homes though the parents cannot afford the carfare to see their children, by placing children of one ethnic background in foster homes of an entirely different ethnic background, by telling children that their foster mother is their new “mommy” and by devaluing children’s ties to their parents in countless other subtle and not so subtle ways.

Because of pervasive racial and class bias, foster care, established as a system to help families, functions as a system to destroy families.

BEYOND THE BEST INTERESTS OF THE CHILD, uses psychoanalysis to legitimize and reinforce the operation of the foster care system as a brutal form of social manipulation of the poor.

The concept of the “psychological parent” works to free agencies and social workers from any guilty sense they may have that they are violating civilized norms by taking people’s children away from them. Now they are told by the “experts” that the “psychological family” is not only better for the child but will create a better society for us all.

These propositions have of course never been proved. BEYOND THE BEST INTEREST OF THE CHILD is not a study, but a polemic. However, unless exposed as such, its teachings will be taken for gospel.

We hope the enclosed articles will stimulate a real debate of the book’s scientific basis as well as of its totalitarian implications.


Source: New York Coalition for Families, “Beyond the Best Interests of the Child” Is Being Used to Legitimize the Destruction of Poor Black and Hispanic Families, Viola Bernard Papers, Box 286, Folder 28, Archives and Special Collections, Augustus C. Long Library, Columbia University.

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