Reams of paper have been filled with the ruminations of countless judges and legal scholars on the subject of criminal procedure. It is the central concern of four of the ten constitutional amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. It is a major course offered at every law school. And it is the paradigmatic context in which we frame much of our debate about the relationship between the state and the individual in a democratic society. But there is another system that exists in every county across the country, in which the state hauls private citizens into court against their will, accuses them of acts that trigger severe social reprobation, and threatens them with a deprivation of liberty that, for many people, strikes at the very core of their identity and threatens to remove the most profound source of purpose, fulfillment, and happiness from their lives. This is the child welfare system. Yet despite the indisputable importance of the interests at stake, judges and scholars have devoted relatively little attention to the procedures employed by the courts that decide whether to remove children from their homes when their parents are accused of abuse or neglect
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