Dr. Abigail Williams-Butler, Assistant Professor & Institute for the Study of Global Racial Justice Early Career Faculty Fellow, authored the first piece for "Just Takes," ISGRJ's new writing initiative to orient research towards a more public audience. Below is her submission, Intersectionality and Structural Gendered Racism: Theoretical Considerations for Black Women, Children, and Families Impacted by Child Protective Services (originally posted on the ISGRJ website).

In the United States, 53 percent of Black children are the subject of child maltreatment reports, compared to 37 percent of all children (Kim and colleagues, 2017). Black children are more likely to have higher rates of involvement in later stages of child protective services (Edwards and colleagues, 2021) and are more likely to have negative developmental outcomes compared to White and Hispanic youth who age out of the system (Courtney and colleagues, 2011). The parents of these Black children, who are disproportionately poor, single Black mothers, have historically been characterized as unworthy, unfit, and lacking in the necessary values of traditional motherhood, thus justifying the removal of their children (Bach, 2014; Lens, 2019; Roberts, 1993). Child maltreatment research has rarely paid attention to the framework of intersectionality (Nadan and colleagues, 2015) (the acknowledgement of the multiple identities an individual possesses which influences relationships of power and oppression) (Crenshaw, 1989) in understanding this overrepresentation. Taking into consideration the identities of race, gender, class and the role that each simultaneously play in precipitating this overrepresentation is an understudied topic in the research literature. It is important that practitioners, administrators, and policymakers are aware of the racialized, gendered, and class-based dynamics at play regarding child protective services and how structural gendered racism (the actions of racism and sexism at the structural level shaping race and gender inequalities at the practice and policy level) (Pirtle & Wright, 2021) negatively influence Black women, and as a result, Black children and families within child protective services.  

Historically, child protective services were not designed to meet the needs of Black families and were developed in response to the needs of poor and working class White families and European immigrants in the 19th century (Hill, 2004). However, from its inception, child protective services had an interdependent relationship with the carceral state as its initial goal was to punish parents deemed unfit by using the power of the law to inflict state-led punishment (Antler & Antler, 1979). This interdependent relationship later formed the foundation for the overrepresentation of the Black families and children within child protective services (Kelly, 2021). In the literature, racial disproportionality regarding child maltreatment often focuses on the causes and consequences of involvement for Black children and often minimizes or ignores the impact of this involvement for Black women, the mothers of these children, who are disproportionately surveilled based on biases related to race, gender, and class.  

Racism, sexism, and classism work together to disproportionately punish Black mothers via state-sanctioned regulatory control. It is important that child protective services practitioners, administrators, and policymakers are aware of these issues. While Dorothy Roberts has addressed these issues for decades (2002, 2012, 2014, 2022), it is important that clinicians and practitioners become more actively engaged in acknowledging how intersectionality and structural gendered racism influence the disproportionate contact of Black women and their children within child protective services and work toward policy and practice interventions to improve their overall well-being. Understanding the interlocking and simultaneous oppression that racism, sexism, and classism play and the power and privilege dynamics related to clients’ and workers identities is important in informing practice, policy, and organizational change.  

Professor Williams-Butler will be presenting at the Dakar Translation Symposium Accra Edition: Africa and her Globalization in Ghana this June on a paper currently under review with the International Journal of Social Welfare focusing on the well-being of Black women and girls in Ghana and the United States:

Understanding the oppression of Black girls and women within the global context: Illustrations from Ghana and the United States. International Journal of Social Welfare. Williams-Butler, A., Nartey, P., Farmer, A. Hervie, V.M., & Naami, A. (Under Review).


Throughout sub-Saharan Africa and the African diaspora, there is documented oppression of young girls and women. While many policies and laws have been created to improve the well-being of this population, many of them are ineffective, oftentimes due to harmful cultural practices enshrined by systems of oppression. This paper uses intersectionality to explore the unique oppression that young girls and women in sub-Saharan Africa and the African diaspora experience. Specific cultural practices and policies will be analyzed using Ghana and the United States as case examples. In Ghana, we explore the Trokosi system as a cultural practice which causes undue harm to young girls and women. In the United States, we explore the child welfare system, which disproportionately causes undue harm to Black girls and Black mothers of the children within this system. Similarities and differences related to the underlying oppression of both groups is explored in-depth. 


After the The Dakar Translation Symposium Accra Edition: Africa and Her Globalization conference, Professor Williams-Butler will be staying in Ghana for the entirety of the month of June working with colleagues at the University of Ghana doing guest lectures and meeting with community organizations in preparation for a Fulbright submission. She will wrap up the month of June in completing a writing retreat in Ghana on behalf of the Society for Social Work Research's Special Interest Group focusing on the Well-Being of Black Women and Girls.