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In this Article, Prof. Ross argues that no single paradigm of family relationships adequately serves the emotional needs of children who enter the foster care system due to the poverty of their parents. According to Prof. Ross, the needs of such children are increasingly at issue because of the likely effect on poor families of interactions between the Personal Responsibility Act (PRA) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act (ASFA). Reliable data is not yet available on children who are moved into foster care as their families lose welfare benefits or on those who are placed in adoptive homes in compliance with ASFA’s emphasis on permanency planning.

In order to illuminate how these legal changes are likely to affect children, Prof. Ross examines the placing-out programs of the late nineteenth century, which sent indigent urban children to live on farms in western states. Placing out, a precursor of the current foster care system, led to a wide variety of treatment; some children were little more than farm laborers, while others became family members. Participants were unclear about what norms governed the child’s relationships with both the new family and the family of origin, including biological parents, siblings and other relatives. Although the current law provides a clear taxonomy of family types which did not exist a century ago (i.e., biological, foster, and adoptive families) such categories do not always reflect the complexity of human relationships. Prof. Ross argues for a more flexible approach to defining the families created or rearranged by the state, so that these varied families can better serve each child’s needs.

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GWU Legal Studies Research Paper No. 537; GWU Law School Public Law Research Paper No. 537

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