Document Type


Publication Title

Notre Dame Law Review

Publication Date



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 principle 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 reconfiguration 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 recognizes 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.

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Family Law Commons