Below is the abstract for “The Ties that Bind Us: An Empirical, Clinical, and Constitutional Argument Against Terminating Parental Rights,” available for download on SSRN.

This Article explores the unnecessary termination of a child’s relationship with their parent from an empirical, clinical, and constitutional lens. Part I explores administrative data related to TPR, which like many child protection metrics, resembles nothing short of a wild west of practices and policies relating to how often and how fast child protection systems terminate parental rights. These data also reveal how TPR can unnecessarily delay legal permanency for children, particularly those children who are living with extended family, and how a State pursuing TPR can drain its own scarce resources, a system perpetually decrying insufficient resources.

Part II highlights the clinical research showing the need for children to have relationships with their birth parents, even with those who might be unable to care for them. This section also summarizes the research documenting the trauma experienced by parents who have their parental rights terminated, which might impact the parent’s ability to care for other children in the future. Part III discusses the unconstitutional features of the child protection system’s overutilization of TPR. Well-established principles of constitutional law require courts to search for less restrictive alternatives prior to infringing on individuals’ fundamental rights, like the right to direct the care of one’s child. Still, child protection systems stubbornly persist in terminating parental rights, a thinly veiled effort held out as a means to achieve legal permanency for children despite TPR being neither necessary nor sufficient to achieve legal permanency for children.


Vivek S. Sankaran

University of Michigan Law School

Vivek S. Sankaran is a clinical professor of law at the University of Michigan Law School. He advocates for the rights of children and parents involved in child welfare proceedings. His work focuses on improving outcomes for children in foster care by empowering their parents and strengthening decision-making processes in juvenile courts. 

Christopher Church

Emory University School of Law

Christopher Church came to Emory in 2023 as a Senior Clinical Fellow. Christopher co-directs the Appeal For Youth Clinic with Stephen Reba, supervising the clinic’s dependency appeals. Christopher is a Senior Director for Casey Family Programs, the nation’s largest private operating foundation focused on safely reducing the need for foster care and Building Communities of Hope.


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