The 3-Minute Interview: Matt Fraidin

Local,Bill Myers
Matt Fraidin, 42, is an associate professor at the University of the District of Columbia’s law school. He just won a $75,000 grant from the D.C. Superior Court to run a legal aid clinic that will help poor parents take on D.C.’s child welfare bureaucracy. It’s the first of its kind in the Washington area and the fourth such clinic in the U.S.

Why does D.C. need a child welfare clinic?
Because too many children are unnecessarily separated from their families, and giving parents a real voice is the best way to protect children and strengthen families.

You’ll agree, though, that some parents can’t raise kids, right? How do you tell the difference?
Interesting. The vast majority of children who are taken from their parents are taken because of issues related to poverty and racial bias. And addressing those factors is the way to keep our community safe and strong.

Why has it been so hard to reform child welfare agencies — not just here in D.C., but nationwide?
Because all institutions tend to serve and preserve themselves rather than serve their clients.

But aren’t child welfare bureaucrats in an untenable position? I mean, if they snatch the kids, they’re over-aggressive. If they don’t and something goes wrong, they’re negligent.
No, I don’t agree. Children are severely harmed by being separated from their caretakers.

So, is the problem that cities can’t read their own laws? Where’s the breakdown?
Agencies want to stay out of the headlines. And there are no headlines when a child is hurt by unnecessarily being taken away from his or her family. That’s what happens day in and day out. The problem is that the harm caused by a child’s death, although very rare, is deeply shocking. But the harm caused by removing a child is not nearly as visible. We can’t see as tangibly that the child who is removed is terrified about never seeing his parents again. We can’t understand the fear of being taken to a strange home in a strange neighborhood with people he’s never seen before. But those harms are deeply scarring.
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