An Apology for a Regrettable Chronicle Op-Ed

In August 2017, Marie Cohen, a former Washington D.C. social worker, penned an op-ed for The Chronicle of Social Change entitled “Foster Care as Punishment? A Case of Biased Reporting by the New York Times.”

In it, Cohen argued that a July 2017 New York Times article titled “Foster Care as Punishment: The New Jane Crow,” was overly sympathetic to poor mothers who have their children placed in foster care.

The article, which received national attention, focused on how New York City’s child protection agency punishes “parents who have few resources,” resulting in the disproportionate removal from low-income families. It opens with the story of a mother, whose 5-year-old daughter was removed by the city’s Administration for Children’s Services in 2010 after the little girl crossed the street alone to go to her grandmother’s home.

The writers – Stephanie Clifford and Jessica Silver Greenberg – described the mother as loving “splurging on her daughter … even though money was tight.”

Arguing that the article neglected to adequately represent cases wherein children should be removed from their parent’s custody, Cohen wrote of the anecdote: “It is odd to me that the authors seem to consider splurging on brand-name diapers, sneakers, or apparel to be an indicator of good motherhood.”

Here is the problem. The Times reporters did not say that this mother had “splurged” on anything except higher-quality diapers and a “princess bed” for her daughter – while the mother settled for a pullout couch each night. But Cohen added the sneaker and apparel references, presumably to emphasize her point.

Cohen has told us that she doesn’t consider this allusion to be racist. And despite criticism of the column related to this section, our initial decision was to keep it on our site.

We were wrong. The fact is that the trope of a low-income mom buying children designer clothes, at the expense of spending on more critical family needs, does exist as a crude and often racial stereotype. Its inclusion in this piece may not have been intended in that way, but our editorial process should have identified this and we should have insisted on its removal from the piece.

Once it was live on our site, we should have considered more carefully the criticism of this reference and taken it down. We mishandled this decision, and in so doing have allowed a callous dismissal of a young single mother’s very human efforts to do right by her daughter to remain in our pages.

Our mission as a publication is to help foster a broad, inclusive discourse on the very complicated subjects within the child welfare arena. Race and equity are a big part of that discussion, and we believe we have covered these issues responsibly.

But in this case, we used poor judgment. We regret it, we have learned from it, and today we remove this column from our website with our sincere apologies.

Thank you for reading The Chronicle, and please know that we are dedicated to fair coverage of the lives and experiences of everyone involved with this country’s child welfare system.

John Kelly, Editor-in-Chief

Daniel Heimpel, Publisher

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