Ode to the Family Destruction System: They Decided Not to Listen to Her

By Diane Redleaf

They decided that she was a mess.

They slapped on labels:



hopeless case.

And she was a black woman, too.

So she could hardly force anyone to listen

in the years before anyone thought to be

“trauma informed”

or thought that

a black momma mattered.

It’s unclear, looking at case records,

whether a single person

listened along her way.

And by the time her son knew of her struggles,

he could see them listening to his dad,

not her,

as they claimed righteous concern for his welfare,

keeping him away from her.

He wanted to shout to them,

Including the one in black robes,

“Listen to her; she’s worthy, too!”

But he was too young to

articulate the point:

that claims about caring for children

ring hollow

when uttered by the mouths

of those who hate their mommas—

the ones who have decided that

they can manage a child’s welfare

without reckoning with so intangible a thing

as a mother’s love.

For over four decades, Diane Redleaf has led precedent-setting appellate legal challenges and spearheaded national and multi-state legislative reform efforts on behalf of children and families. She has taught at the University of Chicago Law School and Loyola Law School, and currently serves as the legal consultant to Let Grow (2018 – present); is a leader in United Family Advocates, a national bipartisan child protection policy advocacy network that she founded following the 2016 Presidential election; and serves on the Steering Committee of the ABA’s National Alliance for Parent Representation. Her book They Took the Kids Last Night: How the Child Protection System Puts Families at Risk (ABC-Clio, 2018) recounts stories of families she has represented in a long career as a family defender. Her recent articles have appeared in the, the Washington Post, Cato Unbound,, and The Imprint, and, in 2017, she presented at the University of Chicago TedX.

Diane started writing poetry in July 2019, inspired by the poetic voice of National Youth Poet Laureate Kara Jackson, who is the daughter of her friend and former legal services colleague Helen Thornton. She first got to know LSNJ’s Jey Rajaraman when they were both tapped to lead a workshop on planning National Reunification Day events and was inspired to write this poem after hearing the story of Titus Smith, a member of the LSNJ Reunified Youth Foster Forum, told at the National Alliance for Parent Representation Conference (workshop on Keeping Families Strong: Pre-petition Representation as an Anti-Racist Strategy), May 20, 2021.