Society for the Anthropology of North America
Oral Presentation Session
This presentation will discuss preliminary and ongoing research about the child welfare system in Western Wisconsin including the links between this system and policing and “law and order” politics. The research site is in one of the poorest counties in the state and has experienced a methamphetamine “crisis” over the last several years. Methamphetamine use and the policing of its sale and distribution have led to a sharp increase in child removals, straining county resources. Because Wisconsin strictly follows timelines set out by the Adoption and Safe Families Act (i.e. that parental rights termination proceedings should be initiated after a child has been in foster care for 15 of the previous 22 months), these removals have led to alarming increases in parental rights terminations. Although Wisconsin has a community of activists working for prison reform, and even abolition, these activists have by and large not taken up child welfare issues as a form of state policing and punishment. Like other parts of the country families caught up in the child welfare system are treated punitively despite the requirement that “reasonable efforts” are required to help families deal with the problems that bring them to the attention of authorities. The reasons for this punitive turn and why it has largely gone unchallenged will be explored.