Parsing Parenthood

__ Lewis & Clark L. Rev. __ (Forthcoming)

Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 253

60 Pages Posted: 2 Aug 2012 Last revised: 3 Aug 2012

Date Written: August 2, 2012


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 private family law system’s disaggregation of parental rights and responsibilities.

Keywords: parenthood, parent and child, child abuse and neglect, family, adoption, foster care, prevention, ASFA, child welfare, subsidized guardianship, parental rights

Suggested Citation

Godsoe, Cynthia, Parsing Parenthood (August 2, 2012). __ Lewis & Clark L. Rev. __ (Forthcoming), Brooklyn Law School, Legal Studies Paper No. 253, Available at SSRN: or

Cynthia Godsoe (Contact Author)

Brooklyn Law School ( email )

250 Joralemon Street
Brooklyn, NY 11201
United States

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