San Francisco Attorney Magazine

Spring 2023

Reimagining Child Welfare

By Zabrina Aleguire

The Bar Association of San Francisco's (BASF) most Tweeted about (80,000 impressions) CLE event took place on March 23, 2023.  The topic? “Reimagining Child Welfare – Strategies to Abolish the System.”  Speaking to a full house at the historic Bayview Opera House, with over 160 viewers on livestream, Professor Dorothy Roberts likened U.S. child welfare practices to “family policing.”  Roberts, a professor of civil rights law at the University of Pennsylvania, has been an outspoken critic of racism in child welfare policies for decades and she is at the forefront of calls for reproductive justice.  Her highly anticipated talk was brought about by community partner San Francisco CASA and co-sponsored by the Homeless Prenatal Program.

BASF Executive Director Yolanda Jackson introduced the event by calling attention to the stark racial divide in which families are aggressively investigated by Child Protective Services (CPS).  One in two Black children in California are investigated by CPS at some point in their childhood, according to a recent longitudinal study.  In San Francisco almost 50% of children in foster care are Black, while they constitute less than 5% of our city’s population.  This amounts to excessive separation of Black families.

Prof. Roberts argues that this is no accident – pointing out how the same discriminatory practices exist in policing, criminalization, and incarceration.  Her newest book, Torn Apart, makes an urgent call for abolishing the current system and developing a reimagined system designed to better protect children, families, and communities – through improved childcare, financial resources, and more access to housing, nutrition, education, and comprehensive health care.


Photo credits: Maritza Lara

Prof. Roberts asks: if child welfare intervention was so helpful, wouldn’t white families overpopulate the system instead?  The inequities, as analyzed by Prof. Roberts, have to do with economic disparity, structural factors that punish people living in poverty, racism and implicit bias, and privileged assumptions about what makes a good family or constitutes good parenting.

The solution? Prof. Roberts argues that a system built on racist assumptions and historic subjugation of communities of color must be abolished and rebuilt in a fundamentally different way. She praises communities where mutual aid is replacing CPS intervention, where parents who are struggling can turn to their own neighbors and friends for more natural support. This reimagining is gaining momentum, and thanks to the event, our San Francisco community is in active dialogue about advancing more effective approaches to care for kids and families.

In San Francisco, the attorneys who represent all children in foster care and their low-income parents are provided through BASF’s Dependency Representation Program (DRP). We are open to new, excellent attorneys joining these ranks! BASF is dedicated to diversifying our panel of attorneys to better reflect the population we serve while increasing our strengths, capabilities, and adaptability. We aim to bring varied perspectives, experiences, backgrounds, talents, and interests to high-quality representation of indigent clients and the administration of justice.  For more information, reach out to us at or 415-782-8948.

Zabrina Aleguire is a nationally recognized family defense attorney and manages BASF’s Dependency Representation Program. She has authored several practice guides, addressing rights of pregnant and parenting youth in foster care, undocumented minors, students facing suspension and expulsion, and children impacted by parental arrest and incarceration.