The tragedy of the child-welfare system lies, unnoticed, at the bottom of the chasm that divides American politics. On the right, in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade, Victorian child-saving was reborn as the pro-life movement, complete with the dead-baby exposé, right down to last year’s Planned Parenthood videos of “baby parts”: its concern with the lives of children begins with conception but ends with birth. On the left, feminists have generally aligned with the report-abuse regime, rather than serving as critics of it: when battered-woman syndrome followed battered-child syndrome, the recovery of trauma became feminist dogma. During the decades in which the right and the left battled over abortion, a whole raft of programs designed to prevent the neglect of young children were being dismantled. “In 1980, with the remnants of the poverty programs, you had some locally based or even neighborhood-based programs still in place,” Dowd says. Little of that exists anymore, and programs aimed at prevention have proved impossible to rebuild. “Agencies have tried and tried to get closer to a prevention model, but it’s just not how the field is set up,” Spears told me. In the rare instances when states establish prevention programs, she says, they can’t sustain them: “When budget cuts come, you can cut prevention but you can’t cut intervention.” Presumably, preventing abuse and neglect by providing family-support services would reduce the numbers of children in the juvenile-justice system and in the adult-justice system, too. “If you could do it, the savings would be enormous,” Spears says.
Jill Lepore, “Baby Doe”, The New Yorker (1 February 2016), 56.