Looking Ahead: A Personal Vision of the Future of Child Welfare Law
The participants in the Thirtieth Anniversary Celebration of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic were all challenged to envision the future of child welfare and to address these questions: What should the law and legal institutions governing children’s rights and child and family welfare look like in thirty more years? What steps are necessary to achieve those goals? After setting out the historical and optimistic circumstance in which the Child Advocacy Law Clinic was founded, this Article responds to the organizing questions by presenting the author’s vision of the future of child welfare law and practice. When families fail children, what interventions and what process is appropriate? A premise is that our society expects too much of the child welfare system. If America adopted policies to support children and families far fewer children would enter the child welfare system and the courts, thus freeing up capacity to respond to children who really need the assistance.
This personal vision of the future of child welfare discusses nine interconnected dimensions of child welfare law and policy: 1) America will address child poverty and strengthen its policies supporting children’s families and the institutions that help children grow and develop into healthy and productive citizens; 2) America will be better at preventing child abuse and neglect; 3) Child protective services, the entry point into the child welfare system, will rely more on a rehabilitative approach and less on the punitive, fault-based accusatory response of today; 4) Formal legal process, apart from adjudication, will rely more on problem-solving approaches that include the entire family; 5) There will be less reliance on the courts for routine management of cases, with rights-based application to the courts only where coercive, involuntary action is required to protect the child or to protect parents and children from an overzealous state intervention; 6) Dispositional orders will be based on a comprehensive assessment that includes the entire family, generally provide for more contact between parent and child, and rely more on a cadre of professional foster parents; 7) Permanency and stability for the child will remain a centerpiece of American law and practice, but, after the finding of parental unfitness at adjudication, more persons will participate in the permanency decisions and the range of acceptable permanency options will expand; 8) Legal services for children and families will be better organized and also more broadly conceived than today with private and preventive law playing a large role; 9) The education of lawyers and other professionals in child welfare will be more sophisticated and increasingly interdisciplinary.