Where the line is drawn between the routine conditions of poverty and child neglect is particularly vexing. Many struggles common among poor families are officially defined as child maltreatment, including not having enough food, having inadequate or unsafe housing, lacking medical care, or leaving a child alone while you work. Unhoused families face particularly difficult challenges holding on to their children, as the very condition of being homeless is judged neglectful.
The AFST sees the use of public services as a risk to children. A quarter of the predictive variables in the AFST are direct measures of poverty: they track use of means-tested programs such as TANF, Supplemental Security Income, SNAP, and county medical assistance. Another quarter measure interaction with juvenile probation and CYF itself, systems that are disproportionately focused on poor and working-class communities, especially communities of color. The juvenile justice system struggles with many of the same racial and class inequities as the adult criminal justice system. A family’s interaction with CYF is highly dependent on social class: professional middle-class families have more privacy, interact with fewer mandated reporters, and enjoy more cultural approval of their parenting than poor or working-class families.
We might call this poverty profiling. Like racial profiling, poverty profiling targets individuals for extra scrutiny based not on their behavior but rather on a personal characteristic: living in poverty. Because the model confuses parenting while poor with poor parenting, the AFST views parents who reach out to public programs as risks to their children.
–Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor by Virginia Eubanks