Friday, November 4, 2011
The story public family law tells about parenthood is both inaccurate and normatively misguided. Parents are deemed “bad” because of their need for state support, and the parent-child relationship is accordingly devalued. This devaluation has resulted in costly and ineffective child welfare policies, embodied in the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA) and related state laws. Child maltreatment costs an estimated 103.8 billion dollars annually, yet its incidence remains high. Thousands of youth “age out” of foster care each year as legal orphans, with no connection to a family and very poor prospects.
This Article explores the consequences of this flawed framework, including the failure to recognize the socioeconomic factors underlying most child maltreatment and the disregard for the real ties between parents and children after families are separated. It argues that child welfare policies will not succeed until the underlying parenthood narrative changes; implicit cognitive biases channel even new interventions in a way that stigmatizes marginalized families and over-prioritizes adoption as a panacea. This Article concludes by considering some promising paths to remapping parenthood, incorporating lessons from the public health preventive approach and from the privatefamily law system’s disaggregation of parental rights and responsibilities.