children, "freedom" includes the possibility to grow
and develop free from harm and exploitation. For children, "justice"
includes access to basic care and nurturance. Children do not
ask to be born, and this is their birthright. These rights exist
because children, like adults, are human beings with intrinsic
dignity and irreducible worth. And finally, if we have any unselfish
obligation to others, it is especially true that we have a basic
social responsibility to our children. We cause them to be, they
are dependent upon us, they are fragile, and they are without
power and influence.
Parents' and Children's Rights:
Children's rights to care and safety are absolute. By the fact
of being born, children have an absolute right to certain levels
of care and support, and to an environment free from abuse or
neglect. These rights have no contingencies. They should not depend
upon children's economic circumstances, the religion of their
parents, their genetic inheritance or its phenotypic expression,
their culture or race, or even the behavior of their parents.
The depth and breadth of parents' rights is considerable. Our
society has clearly and correctly determined that, in the vast
majority of circumstances, parents should have the authority and
responsibility to make decisions for their families and children.
Parents are the legitimate source of most major decisions regarding
their children's physical, social, emotional, and psychological
development and well-being. Parents' rights are, however, not
absolute rights. They are contingent upon parents meeting their
responsibility to provide their children with minimum levels of
nurturance and care, and a safe environment free from abuse, neglect,
Our society has evolved a clear position regarding the state's
interest and moral obligation to assure the absolute rights of
children to certain levels of care and nurturance, and to a safe
environment. The legal concept of "parens patriae" conveys
to the state the legal authority and moral responsibility to assure
that children are not neglected or abused by their caregivers.
In exercising this authority and responsibility, public child
welfare agencies, as agents of the state, can fulfill not only
their obligation to protect the absolute rights of children, but
they also can facilitate parents in meeting their responsibilities
to nurture and protect their children, thus helping parents to
meet the contingencies of their parental rights. Our society has
a moral responsibility to support and facilitate parents and families
in meeting the needs of children.
This combination of protecting children and empowering permanent
families for them is the foundation of child welfare practice.
When parents meet their contingent parental responsibilities,
sometimes with empowering and supportive family services, then
parents' rights and children's rights become integrated and interfused
ends. Family-centered child welfare practice is the recognition
of this essential compatibility. However, a family-centered approach
to child welfare does not imply that we can preserve all families.
When children cannot be safely reunited with their own families
in a timely manner, we identify, develop, empower, and support
permanent families for them, and we utilize developmental and
supportive interventions to strengthen these families to promote