Failed Mothers, Risky Children: Carceral Protectionism and the Social Work Gaze
Social Service Review
Using critical discourse analysis, this study examines how high-impact journals in the field of social work discursively construct criminalized mothers and their children. Findings reveal a discourse that reflects and reproduces dominant and pervasive narratives of motherhood and childhood, constructing criminalized women as failed mothers and their children as a priori defective, at risk, and therefore vulnerable and in need of early intervention and protection. We argue that the discourse on criminalized mothers embedded in these journals capitalizes on affective constructions of both motherhood and childhood to engage in a form of carceral protectionism. Carceral protectionism helps make legible the deployment of both punitive and paternalistic responses to criminalized mothers and their children. We show how mothering, above all other factors, is framed as foundational to the life trajectories of children. In this way, the at-risk child comes into being through the construction of the unfit mother.
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Leotti, S. M., Muthanna, J. S., & Anderson-Nathe, B. (2023). Failed Mothers, Risky Children: Carceral Protectionism and the Social Work Gaze. Social Service Review, 97(1), 130-168.