Children, Parents and the State: Rethinking the Relationships in the Child Welfare System
University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill - School of Law
August 1, 2005
Virginia Journal of Social Policy and the Law, Vol. 12, No. 3, 2005
UNC Legal Studies Research Paper No. 05-21
How should we construct the relationship between the state, parents, and children with respect to children's welfare? What principles should guide it in a liberal democracy such as ours, in which we expect parents to bear considerable responsibility for raising children, but also conceive of the state as having some responsibility for these same children? In this comment, I consider the problems inherent in the dominant conception of this relationship in public thought and law. This conception, which conceives parenting as an activity that can and should be performed autonomously, without aid from those outside the family; which treats the child's welfare as solely the parents' responsibility in the normal course of events, without considering how systems outside of the parent-child relationship affect the child's welfare; and which views the state as an entity whose intervention in families is a sign of the failure of parents, imposes significant costs on the state, parents, and most particularly, children. In place of this model, I argue for conceiving the state as integral to, and enabling of, families, and as an active protector of children's wellbeing both inside and outside of families. State policies that follow this model of the "supportive state," I contend, would reduce, at the very least, some of the most tragic costs incurred under the current approach to child welfare.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 27
Date posted: August 30, 2005 ; Last revised: August 18, 2012