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A Cure Worse Than the Disease? The Impact of Removal on Children and Their Families

University of Michigan Law School Scholarship Repository – 2019

Removing children from their parents is child welfare’s most drastic intervention. Research clearly establishes the profound and irreparable damage family separation can inflict on children and their parents. To ensure that this intervention is only used when necessary, a complex web of state and federal constitutional principles, statutes, administrative regulations, judicial decisions, and agency policies govern the removal decision. Central to these authorities is the presumption that a healthy and robust child welfare system keeps families together, protects children from harm, and centers on the needs of children and their parents. Yet, research and practice-supported by administrative data-paint a different picture. They suggest a system that haphazardly and needlessly removes children from parents through an impersonal process driven by the convenience of the system at the expense of families. In fact, some of the processes designed to protect children from harm directly cause trauma to them. Too often, child welfare professionals remove children based on misplaced confidence in that safety intervention and without careful consideration of the consequences thereof Whenever professionals remove children from their parents without carefully balancing the risks created by that intervention, they are culpable for the harm to children and their parents. This Article focuses on how children and parents interacting with the child welfare system experience the removal process, the genesis of a foster care case. It analyzes the gaps and emergent issues in practice, research, and policy related to child removal