Posted on April 26, 2024

Mothers Accused of Child Neglect Will Get Cash in D.C. Poverty Study

Ellie Silverman, Washington Post, April 10, 2024

Twelve low-income Black mothers who the District’s child welfare agency has accused of neglecting their children will soon receive $500 a month as part of a study exploring whether extra income can help improve families’ lives such that the government need not take their children.

The program, called Mother Up, is funded by $1.2 million from the anti-poverty organization Mother’s Outreach Network, which announced Wednesday it will start enrolling eligible mothers and disbursing funds. Working with Harvard Law School’s Access to Justice Lab, which is leading the research for the program, the group will examine whether the no-strings-attached payments curbs the likelihood of families being separated.

“The system is penalizing families and taking children away from their homes for being poor,” said Melody Webb, the executive director of Mother’s Outreach Network. “We want to also combat negative narratives about Black women, Black mothers in particular, whose children are involved in the system.”

The program is limited to Black mothers who D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency has investigated for child neglect and found the allegations to be substantiated, but allowed their children to remain at home, said Jim Greiner, the faculty director at the Access to Justice Lab. He conceded that some might think “it’s a terrible idea because it’s going to provide a monetary incentive to neglect children,” while others “think that the underlying problem is poverty, in which case providing money is a fantastic idea because it’ll directly alleviate the problem.”

D.C.’s Child and Family Services Agency investigates families when children are alleged to be victims of physical abuse, neglect, sex trafficking, substance abuse and domestic violence. If the agency determines a child is the victim of neglect — which means a parent’s actions or habits led to their child’s lack of food, shelter, supervision, education or medical care — officials then take corrective action, which can range from offering parents child-care resources to removing children from their homes.


Black children and families are disproportionately involved in the child welfare system, with more than 50 percent of Black children experiencing a child protective services investigation by their 18th birthday. In the District, most children served in their home or in foster care during the fist quarter of this year were Black, according to data from the Child and Family Services Agency.