Recent calls to defund the police were quickly followed by calls to fund social service agencies, including the family regulation apparatus. These demands fail to consider the shared carceral logic of the criminal legal and family regulation system. This Essay utilizes the term “family regulation system” to more accurately describe the surveillance apparatus commonly known as the “child welfare system.” The general premise of this system is that it is nonadversarial and rehabilitative, geared toward child safety. In practice, involved parents, including survivors of domestic violence, encounter an intrusive, disempowering surveillance system. The removal of children and extensive supervision mechanisms operate as powerful coercion tools, especially for survivors, who may find the state actively engaging in unwanted family separation. Family regulation cases, which already disproportionately affect Black and Brown families, further perpetuate the subjugation of marginalized experiences. Survivor narratives that do not align with the expectations of the system are discredited and instrumentalized to justify family separation and the termination of parental rights.

The family regulation system depends on compelling Black and Brown families to participate in the reproduction of existing knowledge to legitimize its purported goal of child safety. This system, ostensibly there to protect children, facilitates harmful knowledge production by coercing false narratives and excluding alternate knowledge. This Essay analyzes knowledge production within the family regulation system through the framework of epistemic injustice theory, examining how hegemonic power structures discredit and subjugate marginalized knowledge. This Essay makes the novel argument that the concept of a survivor’s “lack of insight” into their own abuse is a form of epistemic injustice. The cycle of subjugating marginalized knowledge is embedded in a carceral power structure that labels poor mothers “weak” and “dependent.” In response to the current reckoning with carceral systems, a growing social movement led by directly impacted parents demands an end to their silencing and the crediting of their knowledge.


“It is important to share how I know survival is survival and not just a walk through the rain.”

—    Audre Lorde 1 Black Women Writers at Work 104 (Claudia Tate ed., 1983).


I met Jordan Roberts 2 For the purpose of confidentiality, all names have been changed. in family court arraignments. 3 My experience with the family regulation system is informed by my time practicing as a public defender in the Bronx, New York, as well as supervising law students in a family defense clinic in New York City. Like all my clients, Ms. Roberts did not seek me out. She was not in court voluntarily. The fear of state-induced family separation brought her to Bronx Family Court that morning. She spent most of her day waiting next to numerous other fearful parents. Ms. Roberts could not afford to hire a private attor­ney. She was left with two options: represent herself or accept the person that the court appoints. In this case, that was me. Ms. Roberts is a Black mother of two girls. She lives in a supportive housing placement with her children. With little family support, Ms. Roberts will later describe her part­ner, Michael Smith—a Black man—as her biggest source of support. She was never able to say this out loud in the courtroom. Mr. Smith is not the biological father of her daughters but has been in their lives for many years. He does homework with them, picks them up from school, and watches them when Ms. Roberts goes to work. They know him as “dad.”

I guided Ms. Roberts into one of the tiny interview rooms of Bronx Family Court and apologized for the smell and stuffiness of the room as I tried to quickly identify which chair was clean enough for her to sit on. Although this was her first time in family court, as a Bronx resident, she had heard of the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) 4 The Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) is the name for “Child Protective Services” in the State of New York. See About ACS, NYC, Admin. for Child.’s Servs., [] (last visited Oct. 17, 2021). from fam­ily, friends, and other community members. She had certainly heard enough to be fearful. One of the first things she asked was: “Will they take my kids?” The truth is, in that moment, I could not know for certain. I did know that on this first day, Ms. Roberts and I only had about ten minutes to speak about her case; ten minutes to speak about her relationship, her children, her life, her story. Then, we got called into the courtroom.

ACS’s story was documented in their petition 5 The petition is the state’s charging instrument in family regulation cases. In practice, petitions include the neglect or abuse allegations against the parent(s) in the form of an often very detailed narrative. to the court. By the time Ms. Roberts and I stepped into the courtroom, the judge had already read the seven pages accusing Ms. Roberts of child neglect. In many ways, Ms. Roberts’s story of victimhood was defined before she ever stepped into the courtroom. Ms. Roberts was accused of failing to protect her children by staying in a relationship with her partner, the man her children call dad. The petition alleged that he punched the wall in their home, causing property damage. ACS stated he had a drinking problem. They said he was a danger to Ms. Roberts and her children. She admitted to me that there had been issues in their relationship, especially after Mr. Smith lost his job, but she did not want to separate from him. She told me there had been ups and downs, but he had never been physically violent with her, and she was not scared of him. Because she was terrified of losing her children, Ms. Roberts agreed to abide by an order of protection on behalf of her chil­dren and herself. She did not want to, but she recognized that not agreeing could very well lead to her daughters being placed in stranger foster care.

That day, Ms. Roberts went home with her children, the unsolicited protection of a family court order, and the judge’s instruction that her children’s release depended on her enforcement of the order and her en­gagement in counseling services for domestic violence victims. Months went by. Ms. Roberts did not want to engage in domestic violence services. She did not identify with the label of a victim, but she went anyway. Shortly before her trial in family court, ACS learned that Ms. Roberts had allowed Mr. Smith into her home on multiple occasions. ACS conducted an emer­gency removal of the children. Without them, Ms. Roberts’s mental health declined rapidly. Now, ACS wanted her to see a psychiatrist. Seeing her children at supervised agency visits was difficult. She was never allowed to be alone with them. All of their interactions were documented by an ACS worker. Going to agency supervised visits meant having to inevitably separate from her children all over again at the end of each visit.

At the neglect trial in family court, Ms. Roberts had a dual role. She was accused of neglecting her children by failing to protect them from exposure to domestic violence. She was subpoenaed as one of ACS’s wit­nesses against Mr. Smith. At the same time, she was facing her own allegations for “failure to protect.” Ms. Roberts did not want to testify, but with her daughters in foster care and her goal to get the judge to “give her another chance,” she had few good options. If she did not come to court, her chances of getting her children home were slim. If she testified to what she truly believed—that she was not a victim, that she did not need ACS in her family’s life, and that her children were not in danger—the judge would almost certainly draw the inference that she had no “insight” into the impact that the alleged domestic violence was having on her children. Ms. Roberts took the stand to tell the story of abuse that was expected of her. At this point, she had been told that she was a victim. She had been told that she needed protection. She had been told that she needed to engage in domestic violence counseling to get her children back. She had been told that she needed to gain “insight” into her own abuse. Ms. Roberts looked vulnerable and nervous as a court officer guided her to the witness table. Ms. Roberts did not cry, but when the ACS attorney asked her about her relationship with her partner over and over again, she vomited­. She vomited multiple times during the appearance. A court of­ficer handed her a trash can. The judge instructed the ACS attorney to continue his questioning. Ms. Roberts continued to vomit. I asked for a break. The judge denied the request. I wanted to object, but there is no legal objection for making a witness testify about a story that is not theirs. A narrative that feels so uncomfortable in her own body that it makes her stomach turn. It would take almost another year for Ms. Roberts to regain custody of her daughters, even as she did everything the family regulation system asked of her.

A few months before the physical shutdown of family court in New York City, Chelsey Williams, a Black woman and mother in the Bronx, reached out to ACS for help. She had decided to leave her abusive hus­band. New to the country and without employment, she relied on him for financial support and housing stability. Her outreach led to a family regu­lation investigation against her husband and her. ACS eventually decided to file a case against both parents in family court, charging them with neglect by “engaging in domestic violence” and refusing to medicate their child, who the school assumed might be on the autism spectrum and might have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Ms. Williams had the same conversations with her ACS caseworker re­peatedly. She explained that she had never been adamantly against medication for her son. She did, however, want to make an informed de­cision after a psychiatric evaluation with a qualified provider. She also explained that her husband had failed to include her and their child on his insurance plan. Ms. Williams was genuinely perplexed about her treat­ment by the family regulation system. She pointed out that she was the one who asked for help. Indeed, when her husband began demeaning and threatening her, Ms. Williams decided to leave, packed a few plastic bags, and entered the New York City shelter system.

Months later, Ms. Williams was able to gain some independence from her husband, but not from the system she now faced due to her own out­reach. For almost a year, ACS insisted on conducting announced and un­announced home visits, even at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak in New York City. ACS referred her to domestic violence counseling services and parenting classes and refused to settle her case unless she showed “significant improvement” through these services. Ms. Williams articu­lated what she needed repeatedly: time to find employment, assistance with finding stable housing, and physical and legal separation from her husband. Attending twice weekly counseling sessions and making herself available for ACS home visits while caring for her child for the majority of the week took much of her time and energy. The pending ACS case made it impossible for her to file for a divorce or finalize a custody agreement. Yet for over a year, ACS insisted on monitoring Ms. Williams and her child, while her husband remained relatively unbothered by ACS.

All throughout the case, Ms. Williams was frustrated with the lack of effort ACS made to provide support outside of mandated counseling ses­sions. When she articulated her needs, she was redirected to counseling services. When Ms. Williams finally found permanent housing, it was with­out the help of ACS. Her case was finally dismissed nearly two years after she was charged with neglect. At that point, Ms. Williams had endured countless ACS home visits and numerous hours of generic parenting classes and unwanted domestic violence victims counseling.

*    *    *

Recent calls to defund the police 6 See Jessica M. Eaglin, To “Defund” the Police, 73 Stan. L. Rev. Online 120, 123 (2021) (arguing that calls by grassroots activists to defund the police must be seen as a dis­cursive tactic in the context of structural marginalization of Black people); Sam Levin, Movement to Defund Police Gains ‘Unprecedented’ Support Across US, Guardian (June 4, 2020),‌defund-the-police-us-george-floyd-budgets [] (“Government officials have long dismissed the idea as a leftist fantasy, but the recent unrest and massive budget shortfalls from the Covid-19 crisis appear to have inspired more mainstream recognition of the central arguments behind defunding.”). were often followed by demands to redirect resources to social service agencies, 7 See Civ. Guard of Ind. Protest, Defund the Police to Increase Funds for Child Protection and Development Programs,, (on file with the Columbia Law Review) (last visited Jan. 11, 2022); David Miller, Defunding the Police: A Complex, Complicated Road to Police Reform, The Univ. of Ala. Sch. of Soc. Work (June 25, 2020),​defunding-the-police-a-complex-complicated-road-to-police-reform/ [​C8HQ-C7N2] (pointing out the relationship between social service agencies, like the family regulation system, and law enforcement and arguing that “this kind of pairing is foundational for those who champion the ‘defund police’ movement”); Dorothy Roberts, Abolishing Policing Also Means Abolishing Family Regulation, Imprint (June 16, 2020), [] [hereinafter Roberts, Abolishing Family Regulation] (discussing calls to defund the family regulation system). such as the family regulation system—more commonly referred to as the “child welfare system.” These calls fail to recognize the entanglement and shared carceral logic of these systems. 8 See Heather Bergen & Salina Abji, Facilitating the Carceral Pipeline: Social Work’s Role in Funneling Newcomer Children From the Child Protective System to Jail and Deportation, 35 J. Women & Soc. Work 34, 35 (2020) (arguing that punitive interventions by the family regulation system are guided by a carceral logic comparable to and working in conjunction with the crimmigration system); Venezia Michalsen, Abolitionist Feminism as Prisons Close: Fighting the Racist and Misogynist Surveillance ‘Child Welfare’ System, 99 Prison J. 504, 506 (2019) (“Black mothers in particular are surveilled in the community by [the child welfare system] in ways that mirror the surveillance of Black and brown boys and men by the police, correctional, probation, and parole officers of the criminal punishment system.”).
For a more general analysis of carceral studies, see Erica R. Meiners, Ending the School-to-Prison Pipeline/Building Abolition Futures, 43 Urb. Rev. 547, 549–53 (2011). For a gen­eral analysis of the carceral system convergence, see Patricia Hill Collins, On Violence, Intersectionality and Transversal Politics, 40 Ethnic & Racial Stud. 1460, 1461–64 (2017).
In June of 2021, the Columbia Journal of Race and Law conducted a symposium focused on abolition of the family regulation system and a reimagination of child safety and wellness. See The Columbia Journal of Race and Law Announces Its Volume 11 Symposium, Colum. J. Race & L. (Feb. 4, 2021),​announcement/view/376 []. The symposium highlights the intersection between the criminal legal and family regulation systems, while elevating the voices of community members, activists, and directly impacted parents. Id.
Like Professor Dorothy Roberts does, this Essay utilizes the term “family regulation system” to more accurately describe the surveil­lance ap­paratus that is known as the “child welfare system.” 9 See Roberts, Abolishing Family Regulation, supra note 7 (arguing that the “child welfare system” can be more accurately described as the “family regulation system”); Emma Williams, ‘Family Regulation,’ Not ‘Child Welfare’: Abolition Starts With Changing Our Language, Imprint (July 28, 2020), [] (mak­ing the case that reclaiming and changing language is a key reform tool for both practitioners and scholars). This term also better highlights the punitive nature of a system that mirrors and intersects with the criminal legal system. 10 See Tina Lee, Catching a Case: Inequality and Fear in New York City’s Child Welfare System 88 (2016) (drawing parallels between the criminal legal system and the child welfare system); Frank Edwards, Family Surveillance: Police and the Reporting of Child Abuse and Neglect, 5 Russell Sage Found. J. Soc. Scis. 50, 51 (2019) (highlighting the inter­section of the child welfare system and the criminal legal system); Collier Meyerson, For Women of Color, the Child-Welfare System Functions Like the Criminal-Justice System, Nation (May 24, 2018), []. It has long been established that the family reg­ulation system, much like the criminal legal system, disproportionately impacts poor parents and parents of color. 11 Marian S. Harris, Racial Disproportionality in Child Welfare 1–14 (2014); Child Welfare Info. Gateway, HHS, Child Welfare Practice to Address Racial Disproportionality and Disparity 2 (2021),​racial_disproportionality.pdf [] (“A significant body of research has documented the overrepresentation of certain racial and ethnic groups in the child welfare system . . . .”); Lisa Sangoi, Movement for Fam. Power, “Whatever They Do, I’m Her Comfort, I’m Her Protector.”: How the Foster System Has Become Ground Zero for the U.S. Drug War 60 (2020),​5be5ed0fd274cb7c8a5d0cba/t/​5eead939ca509d4e36a89277/1592449422870/MFP+Drug+War+Foster+System+Report.pdf [] (highlighting that, in New York City, one in three Black or Latinx children comes in contact with the family regulation system).

This Essay uses the term “survivor” to mean a woman who the family regulation system has labeled a “victim” of domestic violence. 12 Although men experience domestic violence, this Essay focuses on women’s experiences for two reasons. First, women experience domestic violence at higher rates than men. See Div. of Violence Prevention, CDC, National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: 2015 Data Brief—Updated Release 7–9 (2018),​violenceprevention/pdf/​2015data-brief508.pdf [] (indicat­ing that one in four women and one in ten men in the United States experience sexual violence, physical violence, or stalking by an intimate partner and have reported an intimate partner violence–related impact at some point in their life); Nat’l Coal. Against Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence, [] (last visited Apr. 9, 2022). Second, women who experience domestic violence are generally subject to more serious harms than men. See Emma E. Fridel & James Alan Fox, Gender Differences in Patterns and Trends in U.S. Homicide, 1976–2017, 6 Violence & Gender 27, 27–35 (2019). Another reason for focusing on women is that the family regula­tion system targets women in particular. See Erin Cloud, Rebecca Oyama & Lauren Teichner, Family Defense in the Age of Black Lives Matter, 20 CUNY L. Rev. Forum 68, 72–82 (2017) (arguing that the family regulation system acts as a social control mechanism for Black women and Black pregnancy); Meyerson, supra note 10. Accordingly, although women are not the only survivors of domestic violence, this Essay utilizes she/her pronouns for survivors. The label “survivor”—especially for those who do not self-identify as such—can be problematic and may not capture all the complex experiences of those affected. 13 See, e.g., Negar Katirai, Retraumatized in Court, 62 Ariz. L. Rev. 81, 83 n.1 (2020) (suggesting that when deciding between “victim” or “survivor,” “[t]he best practice may be to follow the lead of the person who has experienced the violence, since the journey from victim to survivor is unique to each person”); Anna Roberts, Victims, Right?, 42 Cardozo L. Rev. 1449, 1498–99 (2021) (criticizing the use of labels like “victim” or “survivor” at the pre-adjudication stage). At the same time, this Essay intentionally uses the term to chal­lenge the stereotypical narrative that women who become entangled in the family regulation system based on domestic violence allegations are helpless victims 14 To date, Lenore Walker’s theory of “learned helplessness”—the theory that “battered women become helpless and dependent on their batterers”—continues to inform the carceral response to domestic violence. See Lenore E. Walker, The Battered Woman 11–12, 16–19 (1979) [hereinafter Walker, Battered Woman]; Lenore E. Walker, Battered Women and Learned Helplessness, 2 Victimology 525, 526–30 (1977) (discussing the theory’s basic components and the factors responsible for inducing a faulty belief system that supports women’s feelings of helplessness) [hereinafter Walker, Learned Helplessness]; Kate Cavanagh, Understanding Women’s Responses to Domestic Violence, 2 Qualitative Soc. Work 229, 230 (2003) (arguing that although stereotypical assumptions about survivors “have been refuted for many years, their explanatory power continues to exert significant influence in practice” (citation omitted)).
Walker did, however, acknowledge that societal power structures played a role in per­petuating domestic violence. See Walker, Battered Woman, supra, at 43 (noting that “[m]any [women] stay [in abusive relationships] because of economic, legal, and social dependence”).
and weak mothers. 15 See Elizabeth M. Schneider, Battered Women & Feminist Lawmaking 154 (2000) (discussing the dilemma faced by women choosing between their partners and their children because of a societal conception that “a ‘good mother’ is entirely self-sacrificing”). Survivors of domestic violence can get drawn into the family regulation system in several different ways. They may become the subject of a neglect case for failing to protect their child from the emotional effects of domestic violence. 16 Even when “failure to protect” a child is not named explicitly as a form of neglect in the state’s child protective statute, state courts have interpreted child protective laws to include, as a form of neglect, a child’s presence in or witness of domestic violence. See, e.g., In re A.G., No. C090836, 2020 WL 7332319, at *3 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2020); In re Interest of J.R., 860 S.E.2d 798, 799–800 (Ga. Ct. App. 2021); In re W.M., No. 20A-JC-1697, 2021 WL 1081785, at *1 (Ind. Ct. App. Mar. 22, 2021); In re Pa.J., No. 20A-JC-280, 2020 WL 4357236, at *2 (Ind. Ct. App. July 30, 2020); In re Joseph PP., 99 N.Y.S.3d 482, 484–85 (N.Y. App. Div. 2019); In re Michael G., 752 N.Y.S.2d 772, 772–73 (N.Y. App. Div. 2002); In re Interest of L.W., 609 S.W.3d 189, 200 (Tex. App. 2020); In re S.T., No. 20-0956, 2021 WL 2272638, *1–3 (W. Va. June 3, 2021). In these cases, both the survivor and the alleged abuser face neglect allegations. This was the case for both Ms. Roberts and Ms. Williams. Survivors may also endure family regulation system surveillance when there are no pending allegations against them. Even if Child Protective Services (CPS) decides to file a ne­glect case only against the alleged abuser, the court has jurisdiction over the child and by extension over the survivor if the child lives with her. During my time as a public defender in the Bronx, I routinely encountered survivors who were never accused of neglect and yet had to endure invasive questioning, unannounced home visits, and in some cases even drug test­ing and mental health evaluations. In some instances, the domestic violence survivor was not initially charged with neglect and only later be­came the subject of a family regulation proceeding. Indeed, the complex and punitive nature of family regulation cases is linked to the way proceed­ings evolve and party roles change once state intervention hangs over a parent’s head.

While current scholarship addresses the punitive nature of mandatory arrests and prosecution for survivors of domestic violence, 17 See, e.g., Leigh Goodmark, Reimagining VAWA: Why Criminalization Is a Failed Policy and What a Non-Carceral VAWA Could Look Like, 27 Violence Against Women 84, 85–92 (2020) (arguing for a non-carceral approach to domestic violence from a feminist legal studies perspective); Priscilla A. Ocen, Incapacitating Motherhood, 51 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 2191, 2224–30 (2018) (arguing that the separation of children from their mothers is a form of incapacitation); Dorothy E. Roberts, Prison, Foster Care, and the Systemic Punishment of Black Mothers, 59 UCLA L. Rev. 1474, 1488–90 (2012) (focusing on the potentially permanent legal effects of incarceration for Black mothers and their children). it has not fully considered the coercive nature of the family regulation system from a sur­vivor perspective. Scholars like Professor Roberts have stressed that the family regulation system is a coercive surveillance apparatus entrenched in the same carceral logic as the criminal legal system. 18 On June 16, 2021, Professor Roberts gave the keynote at the “Strengthened Bonds” Symposium hosted by the Columbia Journal of Race and Law. See Colum. J. Race & L., Strengthened Bonds Symposium Introductions, Keynote, and Responses, YouTube, at 23:23–53:23 (July 13, 2021), (on file with the Columbia Law Review). Her keynote describes the family regulation system as a “multi-billion-dollar apparatus that relies on terrorizing families by taking their children away or weaponizing their children with the threat of removal to impose intensive surveillance and regulation on them.” Id. at 27:43–28:00. This Essay builds on these findings and connects them with epistemic injustice theory to high­light the specific harms that the family regulation system inflicts on survivors of domestic violence. While current scholarship recognizes the punitive nature of the family regulation system, it misses the link between punishment and knowledge production.

Failure to cooperate with the state in family regulation cases with domestic violence allegations can lead to permanent family separation. Ostensibly, the family regulation system is a nonadversarial, rehabilitative system focused on child safety. 19 See, e.g., N.Y. Soc. Serv. Law § 384-b.1(a)(iii) (McKinney 2019) (“[T]he [S]tate’s first obligation is to help the family with services to prevent its break-up or to reunite it if the child has already left home.” (emphasis added)); In re Mary S., 230 Cal. Rptr. 726, 728 (Cal. Ct. App. 1986) (“Dependency proceedings are civil in nature, designed not to prosecute a parent, but to protect the child.”); Lois R. v. Superior Court, 97 Cal. Rptr. 158, 162 (Cal. Ct. App. 1971); Julian W. Mack, The Juvenile Court, 23 Harv. L. Rev. 104, 106 (1909). For survivors, however, surveillance by the family regulation system can be a silencing process. Indeed, narratives of survival that do not align with narratives of dependence and victimhood are devalued and countered with punishment. 20 In Nicholson v. Williams, a class action lawsuit against New York’s family regulation system, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York wrote: “The evidence reveals widespread and unnecessary cruelty by agencies of the City of New York towards mothers abused by their consorts, through forced unnecessary separation of the mothers from their children on the excuse that this sundering is necessary to protect the children.” 203 F. Supp. 2d 153, 163 (E.D.N.Y. 2002). Survivors are at risk of los­ing their children 21 For the state’s power to remove children from their parents, see Shanta Trivedi, The Harm of Child Removal, 43 N.Y.U. Rev. L. & Soc. Change 523, 555–57, 560–62 (2019). if they choose not to comply. 22 Donna Coker, Shifting Power for Battered Women: Law, Material Resources, and Poor Women of Color, 33 U.C. Davis L. Rev. 1009, 1043 (2000); Courtney Cross, Criminalizing Battered Mothers, 2018 Utah L. Rev. 259, 270–76; Justine A. Dunlap, Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child: The Error of Pursuing Battered Mothers for Failure to Protect, 50 Loy. L. Rev. 565, 567 (2004); Myrna S. Raeder, Preserving Family Ties for Domestic Violence Survivors and Their Children by Invoking a Human Rights Approach to Avoid the Criminalization of Mothers Based on the Acts and Accusations of Their Batterers, 17 J. Gender Race & Just. 105, 110–11 (2014); Elizabeth Brico, State Laws Can Punish Parents Living in Abusive Households, TalkPoverty (Oct. 25, 2019), [] [hereinafter Brico, State Laws Punish Parents]. They are similarly at risk if they choose to comply in a way that does not comport with expecta­tions of the family regulation system. In Ms. Roberts’s case for example, her failure to end her relationship with her partner resulted in the removal of her children. 23 Supra notes 2–5 and accompanying text. In Ms. Williams’s case, her failure to acknowledge that mandated services were helpful to her—although they were not—resulted in the prolonging of her case, and consequently, her inability to obtain a divorce for many months. 24 Supra notes 2–5 and accompanying text. This intersects with the concept of “insight” discussed infra Part III. Reports of domestic violence in the home can lead to family separation in a system that blames survivors and coerces them into compliance with the state, ultimately perpetuating “a sense of constraint in institutional interactions.” 25 Kelley Fong, Concealment and Constraint: Child Protective Services Fears and Poor Mothers’ Institutional Engagement, 97 Soc. Forces 1785, 1786 (2019). This is particularly egregious in cases that only come to CPS’s attention because a survivor reached out for help, as was the case for Ms. Williams.

What Ms. Roberts and Ms. Williams experienced is not rare. This Essay argues that the family regulation system facilitates damaged knowledge production by requiring false or inauthentic victimhood narratives and ex­cluding alternate knowledge. 26 Stephanie Ledesma points to two controlling narratives within the family regula­tion system: One, the family regulation system protects children from “deviant” parents; two, it saves poor parents who are incapable of properly taking care of their own children. See Stephanie Smith Ledesma, The Vanishing of the African-American Family: “Reasonable Efforts” and Its Connection to the Disproportionality of the Child Welfare System, 9 Charleston L. Rev. 29, 31 (2014); see also Dorothy Roberts, Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty 65 (1997). The family regulation system depends on compelling Black and Brown women to participate in the reproduction of existing knowledge to legitimize its purported goal of child safety. 27 For the family regulation system to intervene in a child–parent relationship, there must be an allegation of abuse or neglect by a parent or caregiver. In domestic violence cases, the exposure to domestic violence can constitute the basis for a neglect allegation. See infra section II.B. In this way, a coerced victimhood narrative may legitimize the family regulation intervention. This Essay draws on the framework of epistemic injustice to explain and dis­mantle coercive knowledge production within the family regulation system. Professor Miranda Fricker coined the term epistemic injustice. 28 See Miranda Fricker, Epistemic Injustice: Power & the Ethics of Knowing 1 (2007) (explaining that epistemic injustice consists of “testimonial injustice,” when “prejudice causes a hearer to give a deflated level of credibility to a speaker’s word,” and “hermeneutical injustice,” when “a gap in collective interpretive resources puts someone at an unfair disadvantage . . . [in] making sense of their social experiences”). She theorizes that epistemic injustice is a distinct form of injustice, by which a person is harmed in their “capacity as a knower.” 29 Id. Societal power structures and stereotypical assumptions inform which knowledge is discredited and subjugated. 30 Id. at 249–57; Deborah Tuerkheimer, Incredible Women: Sexual Violence and the Credibility Discount, 166 U. Pa. L. Rev. 1, 40–41 (2017).

The epistemic injustice lens offers insight into the marginalization of Black and Brown voices in punitive family regulation cases, which already disproportionately affect families of color, 31 Dana Hamilton, Report of the Race, Class, Ethnicity, and Gender Working Group, 70 Fordham L. Rev. 411, 412–13 (2001). ultimately reinforcing the cy­cle of subjugating marginalized knowledge. 32 For a discussion on gender, race, and class subordination through speech, see generally Lucie E. White, Subordination, Rhetorical Survival Skills, and Sunday Shoes: Notes on the Hearing of Mrs. G., 38 Buff. L. Rev. 1, 4 (1990) (“[T]he web of subterranean speech norms and coerced speech practices that accompany race, gender, and class domination . . . undermine the capacity of many persons in our society to use the procedural rituals that are formally available to them.” (footnote omitted)). This Essay applies epistemic injustice theory to examine how the vague concept of “insight” is utilized to interrogate and silence survivor knowledge and perpetuate stereo­types. 33 In the criminal legal context, Professor Erin Collins examines how specialized evidence rules in domestic violence cases perpetuate stereotypes about domestic violence survivors. See Erin R. Collins, The Evidentiary Rules of Engagement in the War Against Domestic Violence, 90 N.Y.U. L. Rev. 397, 455 (2015) (“[B]y allowing the jury to consider past acts of abuse in assessing a recanting complainant’s credibility, courts signal that her recantation is not a result of independent and rational decision making, but rather the inescapable psychological byproduct of abuse.”). This Essay argues that the exclusion of alternate knowledge operates not only to legitimize the family regulation system but also to maintain broader hegemonic power structures. The subjugation of Black and Brown women’s alternate victimhood narratives is rooted in their identity as poor, of color, and women.

The epistemic injustice framework informs this Essay’s argument that those directly impacted by the carceral state should be centered in solution-driven conversations. A meaningful intervention in epistemic in­justice must go beyond counternarratives. Indeed, there is a growing social movement led by or centered around directly impacted, marginalized par­ents. For instance, in the Columbia Journal of Race and Law’s June 2021 symposium, 34 Colum. J. Race & L., supra note 8. many of the panels and papers were co-led and co-written by women directly impacted by the family regulation system. 35 See id. (hosting panels featuring, among others, impacted mothers, community organizers, people of faith, and allied advocates to speak about an abolitionist approach to reimagining child welfare). Rise, a New York City–based organization focused on preventing unnecessary system involvement and reforming the family regulation system, is led by directly impacted parents. 36 About Rise, Rise, [​Y9QG-LL2Q] (last visited Oct. 10, 2021). Survived & Punished is an anti-carceral grassroots organization working to decriminalize survivors of gender-based violence and dismantle the structures that underlie violence. 37 About S&P, Survived and Punished, [] (last visited Oct. 10, 2021). In the summer of 2020 and early 2021, several parent-led protests called attention to the intersections of the criminal legal and family regulation system. 38 See Elize Manoukian, Ellen Moynihan & Dave Goldiner, Black Parents March to Demand Racial Justice in NYC Child-Welfare System, N.Y. Daily News (June 20, 2020), (on file with the Columbia Law Review); Black Families Matter: Parents Rally on MLK Day to Abolish ACS, Rise (Jan. 21, 2021), [​25CK-AMV5] [hereinafter Rise, Black Families Matter].

Part I traces the history of marginalized narratives about domestic violence from an instrument of resistance to an object of coercion. In this Part, this Essay examines victimhood narratives in the criminal legal and family regulation system. Part II utilizes epistemic injustice theory to ex­plain the systematic exclusion of poor women of color’s multifaceted survivor narratives in the family regulation system. This Essay argues that coercive mechanisms discredit and exclude authentic narratives. Part III examines how the vague and subjective concept of “insight” dictates domestic violence narratives and perpetuates epistemic injustice in the family regulation system. Part IV concludes that the findings of Parts I and II dictate the reimagination of support for parents, especially survivors. A meaningful intervention in epistemic injustice should center authentic survivor knowledge and uplift a growing social movement led by directly impacted parents and community members.