Glossary of Terms

Family policing system (or family regulation system)

Following the lead of impacted parents and other advocates*, CFR uses the term “family policing system” to refer to what is commonly called the “child welfare” or “child protection” system. The term “family policing system” more accurately describes the system’s use of surveillance, regulation, and punishment to oppress families and communities, the majority of which are Black or Brown and low-income. The family policing system does not protect children; rather, it is a tool of coercion and control over Black and Brown families, causing lasting harm and trauma. CFR witnesses these inequities every day, as approximately 92% of our clients are People of Color and 100% are poor. 

While CFR has used the terms “family regulation system” and “family policing system” interchangeably in the past, we, and other advocates, have decided to use “family policing system” exclusively because it emphasizes the system’s similarity to the criminal legal system and more accurately reflects how the system is experienced by impacted communities.


Foster system

CFR uses the term foster system to refer to what is commonly known as “foster care.” The separation of a child from their parent, even for the short term, causes long term harm and trauma to children and families. Former foster youth regularly report being abused and neglected while in the foster system. Children in the foster system are at significantly higher risk of mental and physical health problems. One study found that former foster youth suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at almost twice the rate as U.S. war veterans. Only 49% of children in New York’s foster system graduate from high school, compared to 86% in the general population. The foster system is, ultimately, not about family welfare or concern for children. Rather, the system polices and tears apart vulnerable Black and Brown families, inflicting even greater punishment and harm on children.


Incarceration system

CFR uses the term “incarceration system” or “adult incarceration system” – as opposed to the term “criminal justice system.” The incarceration system imprisons Black and Brown New Yorkers at a rate nearly 12 times that of their white counterparts, has led to widening racial and economic disparities, and typically results in lasting trauma and high recidivism rates. CFR refuses to refer to this broken system as one of “justice” or those who have been disadvantaged and targeted by systems of policing as “criminals.”


Youth legal system

CFR uses the term “youth legal system” – as opposed to the term “juvenile justice system” – for two main reasons: first to remind readers that this system affects young people, who are fundamentally different from adults; and second, that a system that continues to disproportionately target and incarcerate Black and Brown youth can hardly be just. Young people should be viewed and treated as the children they are. Although the youth legal system has shifted to a more adjustment/diversion-based system than it was years ago, Black and Brown youth continue to be prosecuted and incarcerated at significantly higher rates than their white and Asian peers.


*The term “family policing system” was first used by Victoria Copeland and Brianna Harvey in July 2020. Copeland and Harvey were doctoral students of Dorothy Roberts at the time, and the term was later adopted by Roberts and the broader movement.