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All children have an absolute right to a safe, permanent, stable home, which provides basic levels of nurturance and care, and is free from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. This general child welfare value is the overriding moral end targeted by all aspects of the child welfare field of practice. It is a derivational incorporation of the fundamental values of the social work profession: freedom, justice, human dignity, and social responsibility.

For 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, or exploitation.

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 permanence.

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