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Parent Civil Unions: Rethinking the Nature of Family

This Article explains why federal and state commitments to align transitions from foster care services with the two-parent, often heterosexual model undermines primary goals of child welfare services, including providing permanent, stable placements for abandoned, neglected, and abused children. Compelling empirical research demonstrates why the two-parent model may be overinclusive. This Article takes a different approach challenging the normative constructions of family and showing why the two-parent nuclear family model might be underinclusive. It considers the legal, economic, and social conundrums of child welfare services, unpacking the tragic outcomes and failures of the foster care system, which sets as its goal the two-parent family model. This Article combines a rigorous economic critique of the bureaucratic inertia in child welfare generally with a nuanced study of child welfare outcomes, exposing high incarceration rates, teen pregnancy, homelessness, and poverty. Despite these outcomes and significant economic waste in the foster care system, legal scholars offer very little by way of theory or prescription. Parental Civil Unions makes several important economic claims: the foster care funding structure bears little relationship to quality or outcomes, foster care promotes perverse economic incentives and rent-seeking behavior, and foster care funding is rooted in historic rather than programmatic ideology. The Article offers a nuanced proposal to transition foster children from child welfare services to permanent family placement through the legalization of Parental Civil Unions (PCU) or “baby cooperatives.”

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