'Bad' Mothers and Spanish-Speaking Caregivers

24 Pages Posted: 10 Nov 2007 Last revised: 11 Feb 2008

See all articles by Annette Ruth Appell

Annette Ruth Appell

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law


Children are an essential but often overlooked bounty in the regulation of race, culture, and rights. This oversight is surprising given that children are both primary receivers and transmitters of race, ethnicity, culture, language, and values; and that the constitutional civil right to family autonomy recognizes the importance of children in the creation and perpetuation of moral values and, ultimately, to a diverse and critical polity.

In light of the important social and political roles of children, the power of mothers to be recognized as mothers is crucial not only for hedonic and creative purposes but for the very perpetuation of culture. Nevertheless, we have in this country a long and continuing history of constructing the ideal of "mother" according to skin color, religion, culture, national origin, language, ethnicity, class, and marital status. Families headed by mothers who do not meet these norms are most vulnerable to coercive state intervention and regulation through the child welfare system. This intervention is in practice - and in theory - state-oriented, normative, and often punitive. Women who are compliant, English-speaking, not ethnically diverse, White, and middle class are most successful in the child welfare system; those who diverge from these norms are most likely to lose their motherhood.

This Article illustrates an intersection of Latino families with the child welfare system and highlights the importance and vulnerability of language in this system. The article first rehearses the history and role of the child welfare system in the battle for racial, cultural, and political supremacy in this country. The article next discusses how this struggle relates to Latino families, illuminating the struggle through a brief case study of Maria, a Spanish-speaking grandmother of a child involved in the child welfare system in Las Vegas, Nevada, where approximately a quarter of the population is Latino. The article concludes with some lessons the case study illustrates about the child welfare system.

Keywords: civil rights, race, latino, gender, family, norms, children

Suggested Citation

Appell, Annette Ruth, 'Bad' Mothers and Spanish-Speaking Caregivers. Nevada Law Review, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2007; UNLV William S. Boyd School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 07-07. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1028890

Annette Ruth Appell (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
1 Brookings Drive
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States
314-935-7912 (Phone)

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