The UCI Initiative to End Family Violence welcomes Professor Kelley Fong (UCI Sociology) to discuss, "I Know How It Feels: Empathy and Low-Income Mothers' Reluctance to Alert Child Protection Authorities."

About the talk:
Child Protective Services (CPS) relies on the lay public as well as professionals to report suspected child abuse and neglect. Even as reports to CPS are strikingly common, many situations that might be understood as maltreatment do not come to CPS's attention, raising questions about how people think about invoking the state’s official response to child maltreatment. Prior research on why people hesitate to alert authorities when they suspect someone is being harmed has focused on deficits, such as weak social networks, a lack of trust, and anomie. In this talk, Fong will present empathy as an underexamined lens through which marginalized groups view the prospect of state intervention, drawing on interviews with 74 low-income mothers in Rhode Island. Interviewees strongly disavowed or expressed ambivalence about reporting other families to CPS, often justifying their non-reporting by empathizing with other mothers they might report. Imagining shared maternal feelings and commitments specific to their social positions as low-income mothers vulnerable to CPS reports themselves, respondents balked at the prospect of scrutinizing and jeopardizing others’ motherhood. The findings challenge conceptions of non-reporting as necessarily indicating social disorganization. Rather, hesitation to mobilize authorities can constitute an expression of care, kinship, and solidarity. Moreover, these findings underscore an important way that the U.S. approach to addressing child maltreatment falls short and can even be counterproductive in promoting child well-being. CPS expects community members to notify them about children in concerning situations, but marginalized mothers hesitate to call upon a system that involves surveillance, scrutiny, and family separation.

About Kelley Fong:
Kelley Fong is an assistant professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine. Her research and teaching interests include poverty, inequality, social policy, children and youth, education, and family life. Much of her current research focuses on Child Protective Services, drawing on administrative data as well as fieldwork with mothers, child welfare agency staff, and professionals mandated to report child maltreatment. Other projects examine school choice and residential decision-making.

Professor Fong’s work has been supported by the Multidisciplinary Program on Inequality and Social Policy at Harvard, the Doris Duke Fellowship for the Promotion of Child Well-Being, the Julius B. Richmond Fellowship at the Harvard Center on the Developing Child, and the National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship.

Professor Fong received her Ph.D. in sociology and social policy from Harvard University and was previously at Georgia Tech’s School of History and Sociology.


Zoom webinar available for remote participation. Link will be available upon registration (please select webinar registration option).

This event is approved for 1.0 hour of Minimum Continuing Legal Education Credit by the State Bar of California. UCI School of Law is a State Bar-approved MCLE provider.

To request reasonable accommodations for a disability, please email

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