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. The Article concludes with specific policy and

practice recommendations aimed at curbing child welfare’s reliance on

removal to foster care as its predominant safety intervention.