HISTORICAL : USA
The Flemming Rule
Children of color throughout America, and especially African American children, are disproportionately represented in the child welfare system [Leashore et al. 1991; Children's Defense Fund 1990; National Black Child Development Institute 1990]. One explanation for this phenomenon may lie in the historical evolution and implementation of the Flemming Rule. This landmark administrative decision by Dr. Arthur Flemming, who was Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Eisenhower administration, had an enormous impact on the implementation of Assistance for Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) policies and child welfare services.
The Flemming Rule was an administrative response to discriminatory practices in the AFDC program under the Social Security Act of 1935, practices that resulted in mass expulsions of needy children from state welfare rolls. The rule evolved as a result of widespread flagrant abuses of home suitability requirements by some states to deny AFDC benefits to African American children and their mothers. The evolution and implementation of this fundamentally important rule has been ignored in discussions and debates about AFDC and child welfare policies and the connection between these two vital aspects of social welfare.
Racial oppression was built into the AFDC program when it was created as part of the 1935 Social Security Act [Mink 1990; Gordon 1990; Quadagno 1988; Skocpol1988;Abramovitz 1988]. Rules regarding suitability of the home and other restrictions on the provision of AFDC were the creation of state governments and were implemented from 1935 to the early 1960s with the tacit approval of the federal Bureau of Public Assistance (BPA) [Skocpol 1988; Quadagno 1988; Bell 1965]. State AFDC programs were established with matching federal funds. In the early years, there was a 50-50 match; over time, the federal share became larger. Despite the large federal role, states had great discretion in choosing policies in AFDC [Bell1965]. These policies included "home suitability clauses," "substitute father rules," man-in-the-house rule," and "illegitimate child clauses" [Piven & Cloward 1971; Bell 1965]. The policies arbitrarily denied benefits to African Americans because their homes were seen as immoral, men other than biological fathers were identified by workers as assuming care of the recipients' children, the worker believed a man was living in the home, and/or the mother had children born out-of-wedlock.
For example, home suitability rules of the 1940s and 1950s evolved from the federal government's failure to provide clarity concerning a definition and specific criteria for determining the suitability of a home. This led to variability at the state level and allowed public welfare agencies to become instruments of local interests and prejudices, a situation that ultimately led to debate about the usefulness of the policy and the real purpose it served.
Ostensibly, home suitability requirements were created to ensure that public support was provided only to "moral" homes. States could reject at the point of application, or subsequently expel from the rolls, clients whose homes were labeled "immoral." Cases of expelled or rejected homes were closed without follow-up services under the rationalization that services to the children could not be provided because cases were no longer active [Bell 1965].
The records of the Children's Bureau, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Urban League (NUL), reflect the different application of AFDC eligibility standards for African Americans in states such as Mississippi and Florida. Prior to the Flemming Rule (1955-1959), the majority of African American families who lived in the South did not receive welfare benefits from the federal-state AFDC because they were arbitrarily denied.
In 1960, states such as Louisiana overnight expelled thousands of clients from the AFDC rolls simply on the grounds that in these cases women had a child outside of marriage. This was taken as face value evidence of "unsuitability" and the expulsions took place without hearings for the clients and without any serious investigations or intervention by welfare agencies concerning the well-being of the child. The policies were immersed in the politics of racism, for the expulsions on the grounds of "unsuitability" were overwhelmingly applied to African American clients. The expulsion of clients and their children from the welfare rolls had extreme significance for the child welfare system because these children were then classified as being neglected due to a lack of adequate income to provide properly for them. This situation is known as the Louisiana Incident [Bell1965].
The Flemming Rule
The Flemming Rule was implemented in response to the national publicity garnered by the 1960 actions of Louisiana and other states where mass expulsions took place. The public outcry that arose as a result of the actions of the Louisiana state government in its expulsion of 23,000 children from the welfare rolls in 1960 was overwhelming, although it was not the first time states had taken that kind of action. Mississippi had engaged in this practice in the early 1950s and Florida had done so just a year earlier in 1959, when it expelled 14,000 children (over 90% of them African Americans) from the welfare rolls without any public outcry.
The Flemming Rule declared that if a state believed a particular home was "unsuitable," that state had to (1) provide due process protections for the family, and (2) provide service interventions to families that were deemed to be "unsuitable." States could no longer simply apply a label of "unsuitable," expel the family from the AFDC rolls, and ignore the family. The rule was the first action taken against the arbitrary state home suitability policies .
Lawrence-Webb, C. African American Children in the Modern Child Welfare System: A Legacy of the Flemming Rule.
Child Welfare Vol LXXVI #1,
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