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Note - It Takes a Village – A Small Step in Philadelphia Child Welfare Reform: Opening Philadelphia Family Court's Dependency Proceedings


Philadelphia has the highest rate of child removal of any major city in the United States. Philadelphia also conducts its hearings in Philadelphia Family Court behind closed doors—with no access to the public or press. This closed-door practice prevents the legal community and the general public from understanding the inherent systemic flaws in the city’s child welfare system and how to best implement effective solutions so that the unnecessarily high rate of child removal is reduced, and children are only removed from their families for necessary safety reasons.

Other states and cities, including Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, have implemented open family court systems in order to place a check on those in the courtroom responsible for determining whether a child must be removed from his or her home. These jurisdictions recognize that closed family courts can harbor complacency, diminish professional accountability, and foreclose the opportunity to bring attention to systemic failures that undoubtedly occur in child welfare systems across the United States.

Although Philadelphia’s child welfare system is both complex and underfunded, the alarming rates of child removal exacerbate the need to ensure that the number of children within the system should, in fact, be part of the system. Adopting a policy that explicitly allows the public and media to attend dependency hearings in Philadelphia, in recognition of the traditional right of access to other judicial proceedings in a free society, while still accounting for child confidentiality concerns, is one low-cost way to address child protection—a community responsibility.