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This Article offers an initial evaluation of one reformed child protection system — New Orleans, Louisiana — and describes how a system that dramatically reduces the number of children in foster care might look. This system shows how a major metropolitan area can shrink its daily population of children in foster care to the low double digits, which would correspond to a reduction of the national daily foster care population by about 360,000. This reduction was mostly due to sending children home — usually to the homes from which they were removed — within days or weeks of removal, raising questions about the necessity of the original removal. This reduction occurred without harming children’s safety, suggesting that keeping children in state custody is not necessary to keep them safe. Moreover, New Orleans data reveal a particularly large reduction in the time Black children are separated from their families, an increase in the number of children living with kinship caregivers compared to strangers, and a near elimination of congregate care placements and termination of parental rights. All of these are positive outcomes, which demand widespread attention in the field.

Several features of the reformed New Orleans system stand out. First, in the period before any adjudications (when most foster care exits occurred), the family court took on a dispute resolution role, focused on ensuring cases were prepared for trial or moving toward settlement. This contrasts with the family court’s historically more common and more interventionist problem-solving role. Second, the court insisted on compliance with pretrial procedures. Third, legal representation, especially of parents and the agency, was vigorous and adversarial.

Some notes of caution are warranted. A significant minority of children leave foster care in New Orleans via a quick permanent change of custody to a relative, which ends the court’s involvement in the family’s life but sacrifices some potential benefits of a longer case, especially a parent’s opportunity to engage in rehabilitative services and more easily seek reunification.


Family Law | Law | Social Welfare Law