Vikki Katz

Communicating in Family Court

Family CourtFamily Court cases raise both legal and social questions about what constitutes adequate parenting, acceptable childhoods, and appropriate family relationships. For most families, such questions are private matters, negotiated at home. When these questions become the province of a social institution, legal and organizational dynamics heavily influence which families remain intact, which are given chances to recover, and which are permanently fractured.

I have been committed to understanding how immigrant parents and their children manage their interactions within U.S. social institutions, what they learn from those high-stakes experiences, and what strategies they develop for managing future interactions in those settings, throughout my career. In Kids in the Middle, I investigated how children of immigrants enable their families’ interactions with local schools, healthcare facilities, and social services as the primary English speakers in their households.

In Family Trials, I will examine immigrant families’ interactions with a U.S. institution where what is at stake is the family itself. How immigrant parents and their children fare through these experiences (as compared with native-born families in the same circumstances) obviously affects that family's well-being. But these interactions also have import for broader social concerns around immigrant integration and inter-generational reproduction of social inequality.

Since early 2013, I have conducted extensive observations of Court proceedings and informal interactions in the Bronx Family Court. I have also interviewed parents, children, judges, attorneys, and court interpreters involved in cases alleging child abuse or neglect. Over 18 months in 2014-2015, I followed 10 families as they moved through the system, interviewing all actors involved in their cases.

I was named a Visiting Scholar at the Russell Sage Foundation for the 2016-2017 academic year to write Family Trials. I'm grateful to the Rutgers University Research Council, Rutgers School of Communication and Information, and the Russell Sage Foundation for funding that supported different stages of data collection for this project.