Examining the effects of antidiscrimination laws on children in the foster care and adoption systems

Netta Barak-Corren*, Yoav Kan-Tor, Nelson Tebbe

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


How are children affected when states prohibit child welfare agencies from discriminating against same-sex couples who wish to foster or adopt? This question stands at the heart of a debate between governments that seek to impose such antidiscrimination requirements and child welfare agencies that challenge them on religious freedom grounds. Yet until now there has been no reliable evidence on whether and how antidiscrimination rules for these agencies impact children. We have conducted the first nationwide study of how child outcomes vary when states adopt such antidiscrimination rules for child welfare agencies. Analyzing 20 years of child welfare data (2000–2019), we estimate that state antidiscrimination rules both (1) modestly increase children's success at finding foster and permanent homes, and (2) greatly reduce the average time to place children in such homes. These effects vary among subgroups, such that children who are most likely to find a home are generally not affected by state antidiscrimination requirements, whereas children who are least likely to find a home (primarily older children and children with various disabilities) benefit substantially from antidiscrimination measures. We estimate that the effect of antidiscrimination rules is equivalent to 15,525 additional children finding permanent homes and 360,000 additional children finding foster homes, nationwide, over a period of 20 years. Overall, the project offers two key contributions: First, it provides empirical grounding for some of the most heated constitutional and political battles of the culture wars. Second, it advances empirical legal studies by bringing machine learning causal inference to law.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1003-1066
Number of pages64
JournalJournal of Empirical Legal Studies
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Authors. Journal of Empirical Legal Studies published by Cornell Law School and Wiley Periodicals LLC.


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