Give Me Back My Child: How the USA System Kidnaps Children

Give Me Back My Child: How the USA System Kidnaps Children is a journey through the secret lives of six Black mothers who struggle against trauma and bureaucratic mazes to get their children back from foster care.

Six Black mothers reveal their secret struggle against trauma and intricate bureaucratic mazes to get their children back from foster care. Through 13 years of interviews with the mothers, all sexual trauma survivors, sociologist Rita Fierro takes you to the frontlines of helping systems (welfare, child welfare, housing, juvenile justice, and mental health) that don’t really help, but exploit trauma to maintain punitive social control, especially of people of color. Dr. Fierro’s own story exposes how people in the helping professions must confront their own pain and condescension, before anything can change. From the stories, a new framework of activism emerges, where we activate individually and collectively to transform trauma within ourselves and in all aspects of society. Students, professionals who work in these systems, and activists will connect around these stories, for a new social and economic justice movement focused on replacing, once and for all, punishment with healing, for the sake of all children.


“When I woke up on the Sunday of Memorial Day, 2016, I wasn’t thinking about anything but a fun day. Then I saw this headline in the Minneapolis Star Tribune Newspaper, “Abuse reports swamp system”. As I started to read the article, I remembered back to my days as a Hennepin County foster parent and how my wife and I were impacted by the children we hosted at our home, their families and especially their mothers. As I’ve grown older and continue my work around trauma and its impact on families, I am continually impressed with the way that simply creating space for families to tell their stories allows the beginning or continuation of a healing process. Gimme Back My Child! is the print version of the oration of the healing process for mothers impacted by the child protection system. (Given the ability to re-victimize, is not the phrase, child protection system, an oxymoron?) Now is the very best time because this issue is being talked about more and more in the mainstream. Why Rita is simple. Why not??? We often question the messenger. But the reality is that without messengers, we never hear the message.”

Dave Ellis

Trauma Specialist, Foster Parent, Consultant, and Trainer

“Gimme Back My Child! is a very important contribution to the literature because it tells the invariably untold story of what parents who lose their children to a voracious child welfare system that tends far too often to disrupt and destroy poor families of color in the name of child protection. In telling the official tales, the parents of the children placed into foster care are unfit people, unworthy of their children. But most of the time, they are poor people struggling to raise children under circumstances that are extremely challenging. Sadly, they and their children live in a society that spends more money removing children from poor families than investing in communities to allow children to be raised by their families. It is not only Black Lives (that) Matter; Black Families Matter.”

Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia

Professor of Clinical Law, New York University School of Law

“Dr. Fierro’s passion for human truth drove both her rigorous research and sensitive engagement with the mothers whose stories are the backbone of this ground-breaking work. She laid aside any personal agenda in search of the truth of just how multiple systems impact the individual families affected by them. By digging ever deeper into the interlocking dynamics at play, she not only reveals the urgent need for systemic change, but also proposes realistic, cost-effective solutions.”

Helen Mallon

Editor, True Courage Editing


“I had the highest respect for the Department of Human Services (DHS) and its workers. In 2007 my view toward this entity would change drastically. After years of allowing DHS into my home to help my family, I became a victim of the very system that was supposed to be serving me. I was accused of being an unfit mother and lost custody of my daughter. The stories in this book beg to be told. The mothers highlighted deserve to have their stories told. I like many others thought this was a system that could not and would not intentionally cause harm; I was wrong. Too often the harm they have caused is overlooked, swept under the rug and forgotten. The time has come rip back the covers and expose the truth. This is a system that is broken, has been for years. The time has come to turn on the spotlight, stop hiding. Dr. Rita Fierro has passion for the work she does. She shows compassion and empathy for the mothers she has worked with down through the years. She is not afraid to tell it like it is, realizing her work relies on the non-sugar coated truth. I know of no one better or more qualified to tell these stories than Dr. Fierro.” – Lawanda Connelly, Birth Mother, PA Diversity Project Board member & DHS Survivor

Racism today is just as insidious as it ever was given the roots it has taken in our institutions. Many have focused on the criminal justice system – from police to incarceration; however, the child welfare system is just as dangerous for African American families. Unfortunately, there is not sufficient focus on this institution. Give Me Back my Child has the experiences, data, structure, and heart-wrenching narratives to help bring the national attention to this problem that we need. Without attending to all the interlocking institutions that perpetuate disparities, the US will never be the nation it promised to be in its constitution – one where all are recognized and treated as equal. Dr. Rita Fierro has the right mix of compassion, passion, strategy, and cultural sensitivity. Her experiences as researcher, evaluator, and facilitator create a combination that can not only start a dialogue but turn this talk into action.” – Dominica McBride, PhD, Evaluator, CEO, Become: Center for Community Engagement and Social Change, Member of the Board of Directors, American Evaluation Association, Multicultural Issues in Evaluation Co-Chair.

A book on this topic should have been published long ago, but could not have been published because in my observation, people who have the heart, intellect, and tenacity necessary to do this kind of work well are rare. The book has something for everyone from parent to practitioner to policy maker to concerned citizen. I believe that the high quality of research, engagement, and analysis evident in Give Me Back My Child will make this work perennially important for people engaged in or interested in careers in public service, systems analysis, or policy analysis. It is also an excellent choice for those who want to read a compelling narrative in a well-done multi-method study. This book forces us to confront the fact that even our most revered systems do not work in the best interest of those who need them most. Those systems can end up breaking the very people they were supposed to help mend. This book also provides recommendations for mending both individuals and systems. I cannot imagine a more important work for those interested in careers in family service and perhaps public service in general. Sonja Peterson-Lewis, Associate Professor, Department of African-American Studies, Temple University

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