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Child protection professionals work in a multidisciplinary system in which the law and the family court play central roles and which collects an increasing amount of data. Yet we know little about what impact the law has on whether a child is removed by child protective services, is deemed neglected by a family court, or reunifies with a parent. Do state‐to‐state variations in child protection laws, or changes by individual states to their laws, lead to different outcomes for children and families? The dramatic variations in child welfare practice from one state to another suggest that legal variations do matter. Yet empirical research on these questions is scarce both because we collect too little data to measure all such issues, and, because we have failed to study the data we do have. This article is a plea for researchers to rectify that problem and for policymakers to improve data collection. Doing so would facilitate a more clear understanding of the law's effect on child protection outcomes and aid policymakers and advocates in identifying both promising and problematic practices and legal reforms.


This is the peer reviewed version of the following article: Josh Gupta-Kagan, Child Protection Law as an Independent Variable, 54 FAM. CT. REV. 398 (2016)., which has been published in final form at This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with Wiley Terms and Conditions for Use of Self-Archived Versions.

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