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Removal and placement in foster care is child welfare’s most severe intervention, contemplated as “a last resort rather than the first.” Federal law, with an overarching goal of preventing unnecessary removals, bolsters this principle by requiring juvenile and family courts to carefully oversee the removal of children to foster care. Expansive research reminds the field that removal, while often necessary, is not a benign intervention. Physically, legally, and emotionally separating children from their parent(s) can traumatize children in lasting ways. Yet review of federal data concerning children in foster care reveal a troubling narrative: each year, tens of thousands of children are removed and placed in foster care for less than 30 days. Most of these children return to the same home from which they were removed. This article discusses the experiences of these children and highlights strategies to promote a healthy child welfare system that removes children from their families only when absolutely necessary.


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