How Is That Legal?: Breaking Down Systemic Racism One Law at a Time

Fighting for Her Name

March 15, 2023 Community Legal Services of Philadelphia Season 2 Episode 7
How Is That Legal?: Breaking Down Systemic Racism One Law at a Time
Fighting for Her Name
Show Notes Transcript

Welcome to Pennsylvania’s ChildLine Registry… where parents can be labeled as child abusers for life with no right to a hearing. 

In 2004, Angela West and six coworkers were placed on the ChildLine Registry after a child at their job developed unexplained bruising. Ms. West fought to clear her name for 18 years before finally winning her appeal, but she could not get living wage jobs in her field or volunteer at her grandchildren’s schools during that time. Angela West and CLS Attorney Tracie Johnson discuss the racialized harm of Pennsylvania’s ChildLine Registry and imagine better ways to protect children from abuse and neglect.

Trigger Warning:  This conversation pertains to the topic of child abuse, and may not be appropriate for young people.


Tracie Johnson is the lead Staff Attorney for the Youth Justice Project at Community Legal Services where she connects young people ages 16-24 to free legal help with criminal records, public benefits, housing, debt, and their families.

Angela West works in direct support for men and women with mental health challenges. As an advocate, Ms. West is the lead petitioner in CLS’s ChildLine Registry lawsuit A.W. v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

If you enjoy this show and want to help fight poverty and injustice, consider making a donation to Community Legal Services today! You can also follow us on Twitter @CLSphila to stay connected.

How Is That Legal is a podcast from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia and Rowhome Productions. Jake Nussbaum is our Producer and Editor. Executive Producers are Alex Lewis and John Myers. Special thanks to Caitlin Nagel, Zakya Hall, and Farwa Zaidi. Music provided by Blue Dot Sessions.

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Kee Tobar (00:05):

Hello everyone, and welcome to How Is That Legal?, the podcast where we break down examples of systemic racial inequity in the law and policy, and talk to experts whose stories of injustice will make you ask, "How in the world is that legal?"


I'm your host, Kee Tobar. I'm a legal aid attorney, history enthusiast, and Chief Equity and Inclusion Officer at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Today we're going to talk about the racialized harm of Pennsylvania's Childline Registry.


Before we begin, I need to warn you that this is a potentially triggering discussion. This conversation pertains to the topic of child abuse and may not be appropriate for young children, so please do what you need to take care of yourself while listening.


Okay, so I want you to stop whatever you're doing just for a second. Imagine working at a group home for children and one day a child develops unexplained bruising. A doctor determines that the bruises would've been caused at some point in the past week, but the exact causes are still unknown. Now, a Department of Human Services caseworker comes out to investigate and indicates that you and every other staff member who had worked at the group home that week might be child abusers.


Welcome to Pennsylvania's Childline Registry. People can be placed on the registry when reports of child abuse or neglect or indicated by a caseworker. There is no right to a hearing before being placed on the registry, and yet being indicated is a status that lasts for life. In order to get off the registry, people must follow a complex appeal process within a short period of time, often with little to no information on how the process works or what the consequences are. But placement on the registry can result in being turned down for employment and volunteer opportunities. And again, unless you're able to appeal the decision and have your name removed from the registry, that status lasts for life.


So the story that I shared a few moments ago, it's true. It belongs to one of today's guests, Angela West, who will share how being on the Childline Registry for 18 years impacted her and her family. My colleague, Tracie Johnson, an attorney in CLS's Employment Unit and Youth Justice Project, also joins us to discuss startling racial disparities within the registry, and share some solutions that will prevent parents and other adults from being unfairly labeled child abusers, and keep children safe at the same time.


Today's episode is a special opportunity to hear directly from someone impacted by racial disparities in the civil system. So, let's get into it.


Welcome, Tracie Johnson and Angela West, to How Is That Legal?. We're grateful to have you both on the show to talk about racialized harm of Pennsylvania's Childline Registry.


Tracie, could you introduce yourself and tell us a little about how you came across the Childline Registry in your work?

Tracie Johnson (02:48):

My name is Tracie Johnson. I'm an attorney at Community Legal Services on our Youth Justice Project and in our Employment Unit. I began as a caseworker representing on our Childline cases. In case folks don't know, we assist people who need to appeal indicated reports of child abuse that directly affects their employment because they cannot pass a child abuse registry. I came into this work by way of representing appellants.

Kee Tobar (03:18):



So Ms. West, we're going to talk about your experience being on that Childline Registry throughout this conversation. But first, could you introduce yourself also and share a bit about your background and occupation?

Angela West (03:30):

Hi, my name is Angela West, I'm 58. My occupation is direct support, working with mental health women and men.

Kee Tobar (03:41):



So before we get too much further into this conversation, Tracie, can you just define for us what is the Childline Registry?

Tracie Johnson (03:50):

For sure. So Pennsylvania's Child Protective Services law authorizes the Department of Human Services to maintain a statewide database known as the Childline Registry. And what happens is people are placed on the registry when reports of child abuse or neglect are indicated by a caseworker.


There is no right to a hearing before being placed on the registry, potentially for life. And in order to get off of the registry, people must follow a very complex appeal process within a short period of time, 90 days to appeal.

Angela West (04:22):


Tracie Johnson (04:23):

And very few people have access to a lawyer that can help them with this. Not everyone knows that CLS provides these services.

Kee Tobar (04:30):

So before we get to your next part because one of the things that you said was indicated. I've worked in that unit so I know what it means, but can you tell people what that means?

Tracie Johnson (04:39):

When an allegation of child abuse or neglect is made, reports are either unfounded, indicated, or founded. When it's indicated, it means that the caseworkers found enough evidence to maintain a report, the Child Protective Services Report, and it becomes indicated.

Kee Tobar (04:57):

Thank you.


Ms. West, again, thank you for joining us and being willing to share your story, which is a powerful story. Can you tell us how you found yourself on the registry?

Angela West (05:08):

I went to apply for another job from where I was working, and it came back indicated child abuse on the client. I'm like, "Huh?" And my other co-workers, it's seven of us, was accused of this situation with this child. All seven of us was on here, and that's how I came to find out that I was on the child abuse, and it was indicated that I was the perpetrator.

Kee Tobar (05:36):

So I'm just trying to make sure that I understand. So you're at work, and then what happened?

Angela West (05:41):

Yes. In 2004 I was working at a group home with children with cerebral palsy in June, and one of the childs went home and had unexplained bruises. So the doctor who examined him determined that the bruises would've been caused in the one-week period, the date of the examination.


And based on the doctor's evaluation, DHS indicated every staff member who worked a shift at the group home during the week-long period without identifying any evidence about what happened or who was responsible, in total seven people, and placed them on the registry.

Kee Tobar (06:22):

Okay. So an incident happened and everybody basically who was on that shift took the fall for it?

Angela West (06:27):


Kee Tobar (06:27):

Okay. That's appalling, what you described.


I understand that you fought to be removed from the registry for 18 years-

Angela West (06:35):


Kee Tobar (06:35):

... before finally winning your appeal. Was there ever a time throughout the struggle that you stopped and asked yourself, "How is this legal?"

Angela West (06:43):

Yes. I kept saying it, kept praying. Just I'm trying to understand. I would never thought all these years I would still be on there.

Kee Tobar (06:53):

So during that 18-year period, what did you try to do to clear your name? What was your thought process of trying to-

Angela West (07:02):

I kept trying to appeal, writing them, and they kept turning me down. I submitted another appeal in 2013, because I wanted a job, and then they denied me again.

Kee Tobar (07:16):

So you're saying over that period of time, you are going to different places to try to get a job, and it's blocking you every time.

Angela West (07:23):

Yeah, every time.

Kee Tobar (07:24):

Trying to get a job. But you didn't stop trying to clear your name?

Angela West (07:27):


Kee Tobar (07:28):

Tracie, I have the same question for you. What struck you about hearing Ms. West's story? Is there any particular feature of the registry that makes you ask, "How is that legal?"

Tracie Johnson (07:37):

I mean, when I read your affidavit in the petition for review that was filed, I was shocked. One, that there was a lack of an investigation. That just because a doctor surmised that something happened within a certain window of time, now every person who was on that shift was presumed to be a perpetrator of the alleged abuse.


And so all seven of you were put on the registry without any substantial evidence linking any individual perpetrator to the alleged incident. And I thought that that was ridiculous, because it just was like you're just shooting in the dark trying to find who's responsible for something because you couldn't come up with anything else.


And that felt, when I read that, I was like, "How did they view that? How did any of you get indicated? How was someone able to feel that this investigation had substantial enough evidence to identify any one perpetrator?" So that was the first thing that I was like, "This doesn't make any sense."


And then, right, for you to then be placed on the registry without a hearing, without the ability to be heard. How is that happening? And I read your affidavit. I know that the executive director first did the appeal for all of you.

Angela West (09:02):

Yes, he did.

Tracie Johnson (09:03):

But they asked for administrative review, and you were all denied. And we understand because we have clients come in all the time and say, "I asked for administrative review." And then they either never hear back that they were denied. Or when they do hear back, they don't know that they have to appeal again. And so it's so easy to slip through the cracks.


It's also evident that almost everyone who goes through administrative review gets denied, that the process is just so confusing and bureaucratic, the appeals.


And then you tried again. I know you did the A-1. You wrote a letter to the secretary and asked them to remove you from the registry, and they denied you again.

Angela West (09:38):

Denied me again.

Tracie Johnson (09:40):

This is someone who has tried multiple times to appeal and was unsuccessful. Each time she was on her own without representation.

Angela West (09:48):

Yeah. Yep.

Kee Tobar (09:49):

Which is not very shocking, because if the system is confusing for even us attorneys at times, of course it's going to be confusing for a lay person who's trying to navigate such a bureaucratic system.


But I'm just in awe and admiration that you kept fighting it out. Because so many people would just have given up and would have to suffer the consequences of giving up, so shout out to you.


What you described Ms. West was being placed on a registry after a child at your job developed unexplained bruising. But for the little time that I did work in the Employment Unit that was doing these types of cases. Tracie, can you tell us about other scenarios? We know that there's other scenarios that a person could be placed on this registry. Can you tell us about other scenarios that have happened, and parents and other adults being placed on the registry?

Tracie Johnson (10:40):

I mean, we have parents who have extremely medically needy children and if they miss a doctor's appointment, they're placed on a registry. If a doctor feels a medicine wasn't in administered in the proper way, instead of just providing the support to do it properly, they're placed on the registry. Because we know that doctors are mandated reporters, and so often when our-

Kee Tobar (11:06):

You say mandated reporters. What you mean by that?

Tracie Johnson (11:08):

So there are people who are in certain professions who they are required to report anything that may rise to the level of suspicion to be abuse or neglect. So that's teachers, that's doctors. Everyone who comes into contact with the child throughout a child's life. A doctor could report for abuse or neglect if they think if a parent missed a doctor's appointment, if they think the parent isn't taking the situation seriously.


We've had parents be placed on the registry for incidents that have happened with their children and they weren't even present. But it's like, well, you're the parent so you're responsible, right? And even if the parent left the child under the supervision of a trusted adult, they were still placed on a registry.

Kee Tobar (11:56):

The parent who wasn't there?

Tracie Johnson (11:57):

The parent who wasn't there.


So I have a client who was placed on a registry while she was at work. Her brother was babysitting the child and then something happened, just an accident, and she was placed on a registry for not being there, for being at work-

Kee Tobar (12:16):

The parent-

Tracie Johnson (12:16):

... providing for her child.

Kee Tobar (12:16):

The parent was placed on the registry for being at work, and the brother was taking care of the child. The incident, an accident-

Tracie Johnson (12:23):

An accident happened.

Kee Tobar (12:24):

While the brother was there, but the parent was placed on the registry?

Tracie Johnson (12:27):


Kee Tobar (12:29):



Ms. West, that's just still extremely wild to me, that's making me ask myself, "How is that legal?" And I worked in that area and I still ask myself, "How is this whole system legal?"


Ms. West, once you were placed on the registry, what happened next?

Angela West (12:49):

I was placed on the registry and kept getting turned down for different jobs that I really wanted. I couldn't get it because they was blocking me because they was assuming I hurt a child. I pass everything with the interview but couldn't get the job because I'm on that register. And to them it's looking like I abused kids because it say indicated, and a lot of jobs turned down.


I wrote a letter and said, "My name ain't on the register. You don't see I never got locked up or anything, so why am I still on this list? Why am I even here?" And denied again. My letters, I got one now, not enough information. What other information? I don't have any because I ain't... We don't know.


So then one day got up, went called down legal aid, and said, "Oh, I need help because they not listening to me."

Tracie Johnson (13:48):

You talked about the field that you're in wanting to work with people and help people. In 2019, the law was changed. It used to be that if you were placed on the registry, you'd be barred from childcare jobs for five years.


But when the law changed, what it did is bar people for life, for what we know now is it's a defacto ban from other jobs. And if we're thinking about Philadelphia, where we have hospitals and colleges and schools, a lot of people want to work in those fields. But all of those employers do child abuse clearances. And in a city where almost all of the opportunities for low wage workers to have any type of high growth, substantial pay, being on a registry is locking people out from-

Angela West (14:38):

It is.

Tracie Johnson (14:38):

... almost the only gainful and substantial employment available in this region.

Angela West (14:45):

And I couldn't go on my grandchildren trips because nowadays when you can't be on that list. When you go on school trips and volunteering because people thinking you might hurt somebody because that indicated perpetrator is on there. So I wasn't doing no school trips with my grandkids, none of that.

Kee Tobar (15:05):

I guess connected to that. The follow-up question is, who has access to see that?

Tracie Johnson (15:10):

To see that you're on the registry?

Kee Tobar (15:12):


Tracie Johnson (15:12):

Well, it's the jobs still.

Kee Tobar (15:16):

Okay, so it's an employer-based thing.

Tracie Johnson (15:18):

It's an employer-based thing. When you do the child abuse clearance, the jobs that require it, they can see that.

Kee Tobar (15:26):

Got it.

Tracie Johnson (15:26):

Or if you're trying to volunteer, programs that have to require that.

Kee Tobar (15:31):

So programs at people's schools-

Tracie Johnson (15:33):


Kee Tobar (15:34):

... could see that.

Tracie Johnson (15:34):


Kee Tobar (15:35):

Which you brought up the whole thing, the reputational harm is no small matter.

Tracie Johnson (15:39):

Is no small matter.

Kee Tobar (15:41):

I now like to talk about the racialized harm of the Childline Registry. Last season we discussed the hyper surveillance and criminalization of Black parents generally, who actually has the ability and the autonomy to parent, in this connection to the child welfare system.


Tracie, can you talk about how this surveillance and criminalization shows up in a Childline Registry?

Tracie Johnson (16:02):

So we worked with law students at Temple Law Project and they were looking at data as it relates to age, race, and income levels. And they found some pretty significant findings, which was that Black female perpetrators are overrepresented by a two to one ratio.


And this was really important, right? Because when you're looking at the racial dynamics thinking, why is this happening? And we'll dive later into the episode about the racial and gender justice aspects of that. But they also found that Black perpetrators tend to be younger than white perpetrators. And that really stood out to me as someone who represents young people who are placed on the Childline Registry. I look forward to talking more about what I've seen representing young people in that work.

Kee Tobar (16:53):

I love that you were able to collaborate with law school to figure this out. Because one of the things that we know, being lawyers who are interested in showing the racialized harms within the system, is that it is often very, very difficult to find that data, and people want the receipts. You can say it's racist all you want, but unless you can prove that these things have a racial disproportionate reality or outcome, those things are swept under the rug.


And so I wanted to take this time to give you a big up for finding a creative way to figure out how we can get this data. Because anyone who works in that area, when you're working with the Childline Registry, you're going to see just by who your clients are that there is a disproportionality, the disparate impact here. But the idea to then not just take it as that because the data was not necessarily apparent and overt, but to try to find creative ways to get that data. I wanted to make sure that I gave you your flowers-

Tracie Johnson (17:55):

Aw, thank you.

Kee Tobar (17:56):

... for doing that.


So Tracie, what are some of the things you've noticed? You mentioned youth and young people in their disproportionate representation. What are some of the things you noticed in representing youth?

Tracie Johnson (18:07):

So we get people as young as 14 who may have been placed on the registry based on allegations that were made by other children who they may have been around. And this, as we know, if the appeal is not successful, you can be on it for life. These are teenagers, who haven't even started their careers yet, who haven't even graduated. Some people haven't even graduated middle school or high school yet are at risk of being on a registry for life.


This is so upsetting because we know in the criminal context that we've done away with for life implications for young people. We've done that in the juvenile justice center. It's unconstitutional to sentence a young person to life without the possibility of parole because the social science and the research shows that young people's brains aren't finished developing, that they have the ability to change, that they have room for growth. We know all of these things and here and this other segment, in this other area of the law, we still have the potential for young adults to be placed on a Childline Registry for life.

Kee Tobar (19:19):

Even just to add on to that point, if you are a Black person or a Black parent and I want to say that, or Black or brown parent, or just a low income parent who knows the history of this country and is familiar with some of the systems in this country, you know that there's a possibility you take this child to the hospital, that you may end up in the system, the child welfare system, anyhow because of the way that we know the reporting biases go into as it relates to hospitals.


That gives a person incentive, not out of any spite or that wanting to harm their child, but actually wanting to stay with their child and protect their family unit, to not with every little thing want to go to the hospital to know that it could inadvertently have a negative impact. I wanted to raise that up, too.


Can you talk more about this?

Tracie Johnson (20:14):

For sure. We know that Black families in particular continue to be over-policed and subject to the hyper surveillance of agencies that they're often trying to rely on for support.


We know that if a Black mother needs support from DHS and calls on them for, "Hey, I need help with getting this for my children or getting this for my home," then that could lead to involvement by DHS where poverty can be deemed neglect. And so in the country that continues to struggle with a huge racial economic disparities, we're now seeing Black families, and particularly Black mothers, being held responsible for that disparity that they did not create.

Kee Tobar (21:10):

I think there's so much irony connected to this particular system and the other assumptions that society and the law makes, especially as it relates to let's say if we know that we're not giving people a living wage, if that means people are going to have to work multiple jobs, sometimes longer hours. And so if I have a 13-year-old at the house, in order to provide the sustenance as to not be deemed neglectful, I have to work.


But then I'm also going to be punished for leaving that 13-year-old here with the seven-year-old, which makes no sense. Then that goes to the question of all together, how do you think the registry actually affects the children it's supposed to protect?

Tracie Johnson (21:54):

We know that if a parent is placed on this registry for life, you're basically condemning them to a life of poverty. And often we know that it's the intergenerational cycle of poverty that could have led them to being in contact with DHS and the registry to begin with.

Kee Tobar (22:14):

And to the point of what Ms. West stated earlier, it also it is reducing the communal impact on the child, the ability to have communal impact on the child. There's certain volunteering, like you said, you can't do, and so you're cutting off part of the safety net as it relates to community safety net from the child.


I'd now like to talk about what can be done to fix the registry because on this podcast we don't like to just focus on the problems. We do like to try to find some solutions out there.


CLS recently filed a lawsuit to challenge the registry as unconstitutional. And Ms. West, you're a plaintiff in this case. What made you decide to come forward with your story?

Angela West (22:57):

It needed to be told. 18 years on the registry is a long time, impact on finances, run a better job for my family to provide for them. It took its hardship. I ain't going to lie.

Kee Tobar (23:11):

So it was just such a hardship that you felt like you had to just-

Angela West (23:14):

Yeah, I had to speak up and I had to let people know about my story, and it was all seven brown people that they denied that with this little boy. And because of not no hard feelings, he was half white, half Black, his mama white. And I really think that played a real, strong role in this whole situation.


And I always say, "Well, nobody got charged, no cop, nobody got locked up. So why are we all on this case? I wasn't accused, indicated. That's not a calling." But in the overlap minds is accused and I've been fighting, and I wasn't giving up on myself.

Kee Tobar (23:59):

What do you hope to accomplish? I'm asking both of you. What do you hope to accomplish with the lawsuit?

Angela West (24:04):

I hope to accomplish that they take a better look and understand things and see and talk to the person that y'all perpetrator, that y'all assuming did something for you. Matter of fact, don't just assume. You never came out. Y'all don't know us, but you're assuming that we really bad people, we did this to this little boy, and it wasn't like that.

Kee Tobar (24:27):

So I'm hearing you say just more investigation.

Angela West (24:29):

Yes. Not just that one investigation. You came out and that was it. We never seen nobody again.

Kee Tobar (24:37):

Tracie, what about you?

Tracie Johnson (24:39):

I mean, at a bare minimum give people the right to be heard before you put them on a registry. Allow people to go directly to a hearing where you have to actually test the evidence that was used to substantiate the indicated report.


Because we know that when people actually get to that level, I think the number is over 90% of people get off the registry. Once you actually have to put it all out there on the table and actually require the caseworkers to meet the burden to prove that the report should have been indicated in the first place. Almost everyone who gets that level of an opportunity gets removed. So what does that tell us?

Kee Tobar (25:20):

I wanted to actually ask question follow up as it relates to that. What is it the same burden of proof? And I know this is a technical legal terms, but I'm saying basically I'm asking you, do they have to prove that you did it or do you have to prove that you didn't do it in the Childline case?

Tracie Johnson (25:39):

So when you go to a hearing, DHS has the burden of proving by substantial evidence that the indicated report should be maintained and the person should remain on the registry because the investigation was proper.

Kee Tobar (25:50):

But you know what's so interesting by the way that the system works, and as you were saying how the process of where you were trying to go and reach out to try to get this resolved and function, you would think that the person has the burden to prove that they didn't do this.


Because if a person is not a lawyer, doesn't understand that system, it's really you fighting for your name, it seems.

Angela West (26:10):

Fighting for yourself.

Tracie Johnson (26:11):

And it's important to go before a judge to do that, to have a judge who's another body to decide that. Because what happens during administrative review is that that's not a judge who's deciding that.

Kee Tobar (26:23):

What's administrative review?

Tracie Johnson (26:24):

So when the person gets the appeal, gets the notification in the letter, one of the things they can do is ask for administrative review. And that's basically DHS going to investigate the caseworker's work and see if it should be substantiated.


They almost always say that the caseworkers did a good job. It's important to go to a hearing, to have to go before a judge who has to give a decision on this.

Kee Tobar (26:52):

As an objective party.

Tracie Johnson (26:54):

As an objective, impartial party who's going to decide.

Kee Tobar (26:57):

Ms. West, how do you think the process could have been improved for people who have been accused of child abuse or neglect? And what do you wish had been in place for you?

Angela West (27:06):

I think I would've liked to talk to the judge or the people that indicated that I was this person. Let me explain. I never could tell you right now, never knew where the bruises came from on the young man. He bumping things or whatever the case may be. I don't know.


But they just need to do a thorough investigation. You don't just go by that one person, two people that came out and asked questions and you gave them your honest answer. They went from there, and you never could tell you just keep appealing, but they keep turning you down. Writing letters, it didn't work. You really need representation when you trying to clear your name from that because doing it yourself is not going to work.

Kee Tobar (27:52):

Tracie, what are some legislative remedies that could help instill fairness in the registry?

Tracie Johnson (27:58):

A tiered registry would really be helpful. So currently parents who miss a doctor's appointment are treated the same way as a person who sexually abused a child. And while everyone deserves fair and due process, we know that these things shouldn't be treated, given the same weight.


And so there should be a tiered registry where you can have it listed what's the allegation based on the level of abuse, the level of neglect. I think there should be different waiting periods for different allegations. But ultimately the types of allegations should not be treated the same because they have varying levels of severity.

Kee Tobar (28:45):

When you say waiting periods, what do you mean by that?

Tracie Johnson (28:48):

For a missed doctor's appointment, you shouldn't be on there for life. Or for corporal punishment, I don't think you should be on there for life [inaudible 00:28:57]

Kee Tobar (28:57):

Corporal meaning a spanking?

Tracie Johnson (28:58):

Yeah, yeah. Right, so there could be five-year waiting periods, there could be 10-year waiting periods or for more serious ones, for more serious allegations, longer waiting periods.


I also just think that neglect should be taken out as a whole. I think we should just focus on abuse and take neglect out as a whole.

Kee Tobar (29:17):

What is neglect?

Tracie Johnson (29:17):

Neglect is basically if a parent can't provide certain essentials of life for a child being placed on the registry. It's written into the law somewhere that poverty, we should be clear about not confusing... That poverty shouldn't be the reason, but we know that by proxy that's what's happening. And so I just think we should focus on abuse and not neglect.

Kee Tobar (29:47):

Some people are calling to abolish the Childline Registry all together and find other ways to protect children instead. What do you think about that?

Tracie Johnson (29:55):

I do have a abolitionist vision, and I think my colleagues at CLS does as well. We know, before this registry was put into place, that communities had the ability to step up for one another.


And that continues to be true. One, because for underrepresented and disenfranchised communities, all we've ever had was one another. We'll call our neighbor-

Angela West (30:21):

[inaudible 00:30:22]

Tracie Johnson (30:23):

... for milk, for sugar, for childcare help, for anything that we need. We know how to step in. If things sound like it's getting a little escalated, to help go in and deescalate, to avoid further harm or things happening.


Communities know how to show up for each other.

Angela West (30:43):

Yeah, they do.

Tracie Johnson (30:44):

And I think that that's true for this as well.


But until we get to this utopian world, and before... I also want to say that we also know that in affluent white communities, we don't see this, right? We don't see people reporting things at an alarming rate, and the same things are happening in the same household because family dynamics, while there are cultural things about them, there are some things that are universal.


And so we know that other folks don't deal with the surveillance and the intrusion in the same way. Just the way those other families are given the benefit of the doubt and are given the opportunity to deal with private family matters the same way these other communities should.

Kee Tobar (31:39):

I think this just connects to ultimately what we had on our first session with Dorothy Roberts about who actually has the ability to parent in this country and why or why not? Why do some people have the ability to parent and to make mistakes in this country and why others don't?


Because I know that every parent, regardless of your race, regardless of your class, has had a two-year toddler who's crawling around, who's making boo boos. And so to think, if you have to think if you're not one of those people in who's in a neighborhood, or who may be in a subgroup that is surveilled, to have to think about every one of those mistakes that may have happened to your child and think about that punishment that sometimes is disproportionate as it relates to that they may be fettered from that.


I think that anyone who is reasonable can understand that, even if you don't believe that the Childline Registry should be abolished, that there's something that must be done to remedy this situation, Tracie.

Tracie Johnson (32:45):

I think what's also true is there's no empirical evidence that this Childline Registry keeps children more safe, but we do have evidence that it causes harm to family bonds and sustainability. And I think speaking of Dorothy Rob, she talks about the psychological damage just does. She talks about how it breaks family bonds. She talks about all of those issues. We have evidence that shows how it harms families.


But yeah, there's no empirical evidence saying that this keeps children safer.

Kee Tobar (33:16):

And I think that's an important statement to make.


And I guess on the end, I'll ask you, Ms. West, to end this out. If there is anything that you would like to say, not only just to your case, but as it relates to this system that you would want to put out there before we close out?

Angela West (33:32):

Don't give up. Keep fighting. When you know ain't doing anything, keep fighting for yourself to clear your name. That's my fight. Keep fighting. Don't give up.

Kee Tobar (33:43):

I think that's a powerful one to end out on. Thank you both so much for joining us today. It's been eye-opening and shocking all together, but thank you for joining.


I actually care a lot about keeping children safe and well, but it sure seems like the Childline Registry is causing much more harm than good. Can we really say we're protecting children when we keep their families trapped in poverty, or prevent their parents from accessing family sustaining jobs without due process? I don't think we're promoting children's wellbeing when we bar caring adults from volunteering at schools and other community activities all without the right to a hearing. How in the world is this legal? Well, hopefully it won't be for much longer with CLS's litigation pending. If you want to ask questions about the show or let us know what you think, please email us at


Also, while Community Legal Services of Philadelphia offers free legal assistance on a range of civil legal issues, we are not a criminal defense firm. So if you live in Philadelphia and are looking for noncriminal legal help, please visit us at We cannot respond to questions about legal issues via email.


Season two of How Is That Legal? is produced by RowHome Productions. Jake Nussbaum is our producer and editor. Executive producers are Alex Lewis and John Myers. Music provided by Blue Dot Sessions. Special thanks to Caitlin Nagel, Zakya Hall, and Farwa Zaidi.


I'm your host, Kee Tobar.