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Abstract

The child welfare system is in need of fundamental reform. To the great detriment of parents and children, in the current system the state waits for a crisis in a family and then intervenes in a heavy-handed fashion. The state pays scant attention to the prevention of child abuse and neglect. This Article argues that the principal conceptual barrier to the adoption of a prevention-oriented approach to child welfare is the dominant conception of family autonomy, which venerates freedom from state control. This Article proposes a novel reconception of family autonomy that encourages engagement with the state, rather than simply freedom from the state. An “engagement with” model of family-state relations is both a more apt description of the actual relationship between all families and the state and a better prescription for the well-being of families. This model is built upon the mutual dependency of families and the state: Families need state support to function well, and the state needs well-functioning families. State support, however, must not come at the cost of familial self-determination, a principle nominally served by the “freedom from” conception of family autonomy. Therefore, this Article addresses how the state can both provide a more robust level of support for families while still protecting familial self-determination, to the great benefit of parents, children, and the state. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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