ARTICLE CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 1451 1. THE AUTHORITIES FRAMEWORK AND ITS FAILINGS 1456 A. The Authorities Framework 1457 B. Why the Authorities Framework Fails 1467 1. Failure To Promote Children's Interests in the Here and 1467 Now 2. Undue Prioritization of Parental Rights 1470 3. Perpetuation of the Myth of Nonintervention in the 1472 Family 4. Reliance on Limited Conceptions or Dependency and 1475 Autonomy II. CHILDREN'S INTERESTS IN THE HERE AND NOW 1478 A. Normative Foundations 1480 B. Children's Five Broader Interests 1484 1. Parental and Nonparental Relationships 1484 a. Relationships with Other Adults 1485 b. Relationships with Other Children 1487 2. Exposure to New Ideas 1493 3. Expressions of Identity 1496 4. Personal Integrity and Privacy 1500 5. Participation in Civic Life 1503 III. RELATIONSHIPS, RESPONSIBILITIES, RIGHTS: A NEW TRIPARTITE 1506 FRAMEWORK A. Relationships 1508 1. With Parents 1508 2. With Children and Other Adults 1511 B. Responsibilities 1515 1. Caregiving and Protection 1517 2. Education 1521 3. Rehabilitation 1523 4. Civic Engagement 1525 C. Rights 1527 1. Affirmative Rights 1528 2. Agency Rights 1532 3. Equality and Other Rights 1535 CONCLUSION 1536 INTRODUCTION
This Article sets forth a new paradigm for describing, understanding, and shaping children's relationship to law. The existing regime of laws relating to children hinges on the fundamental question of adult control over children and their development. We name and critique this prevailing approach the "authorities framework" and set forth the normative justifications and parameters for a new paradigm. We envision a "new law of the child" that promotes a wide range of children's present and future interests in addition to assigning adult authority over children's dependency and development.
Our new paradigm is rooted in a broad understanding of children's interests as children in the here and now, encompassing but moving beyond a developmental focus on children's dependency or their attainment of autonomy. Drawing from the social science literature, scholarship on children and law, and judicial decisions, we identify five broader interests that law should recognize and promote: children's interests in parental and nonparental relationships, including relationships with children and other adults; exposure to new ideas; expressions of identity; personal integrity and privacy; and participation in civic life.
This new law of the child situates children's interests within a normative universe that values the extraordinary richness and variety of children's lives. Although our approach would impose greater restrictions on adult authority in some circumstances, it also calls on law to be more attuned to children's diverse interests within the family, school, and other arenas. We believe law should recognize, maintain, and promote a broader range of children's relationships, including relationships with nonparental adults and with other children. Relatedly, law should advance children's exposure to new ideas in ways that will spur their curiosity, learning, and exploration of their own identities as they grow. Law should also ensure that children have opportunities to express themselves in school and elsewhere, while at the same time protecting children from intrusions on their bodily integrity and personal privacy. And, finally, law should seek to further children's participation in civic life as a central component of their engagement in the world.
In bringing to light this broader range of children's interests in the here and now, our approach highlights that children's lives are more than lesser versions of adult lives or way stations on the road to autonomous adulthood. Our focus on children's interests beyond dependency and autonomy takes account of the unique strengths and capacities of children, as well as the special vulnerabilities that distinguish human experience in this early stage of life. By focusing on children's lives in the here and now, we aim to free the field of children and law from the ideal of the autonomous, freely acting adult individual. Our approach takes seriously the idea of children as individuals in their own right, worthy of respect, even as they are dependent in varying ways upon the adults in their lives.
By shifting the focus from adult authority to children's broader interests, our framework opens up the possibility for a new conceptual ordering of the laws governing children. The field of children and law is currently organized by location: primarily home, school, and the juvenile justice system. The five interests we identify lead us to radically restructure the field around a tripartite framework of relationships, responsibilities, and rights. We begin with relationships because children's custodial status defines their first and primary relationship to law. Yet our approach goes beyond acknowledging relationships of authority to encompass children's nonhierarchical relationships with siblings, other children, and nonparental adults. These relationships in turn inform the second prong of the tripartite framework: adult responsibilities for children. While custodial caregivers have important responsibilities, we identify a broader set of actors who should carry legally recognized and shared responsibilities toward children, including state actors and adults outside the family. These adult responsibilities encompass duties related to caregiving and protection, education, rehabilitation, and fostering of civic engagement. The third and final prong of the tripartite framework addresses the full range of rights that should be enjoyed by parents and children--not simply rights of authority--most importantly children's affirmative rights to certain relationships, goods, and services.
By restructuring the field around relationships, responsibilities, and rights, we hope to identify and promote children's broader interests in an integrated and consistent way. To this end, our approach reimagines the traditional "best interests of the child" standard, which until now has largely operated as a cover for the exercise of unprincipled judicial discretion based on poorly thought-out factors focused on children's dependency. Our approach instead redefines the best interests standard in light of five broad interests--generous in scope and rich in content--that serve as fundamental, practical guides for judicial, administrative, and legislative decision-making across all domains of children's lives. Under a best interests standard explicitly oriented around children's broader interests, decisionmakers will be equipped to weigh children's interests in a transparent, coherent, and consistent way in the domains of family, school, juvenile justice, immigration, and other arenas, always with an eye toward maximizing their present and future well-being.
Relatedly, the new law of the child loosens the grip of parental rights on American law. Under our approach, the law's existing deference to parental rights in both statutes and legal decisions would give way to a more child-centered analysis that elevates children's broader interests over parents' individual liberty claims. Parental rights have a role to play under the new law of the child, but only to the extent they further children's broader interests, which include children's interest in developing and maintaining relationships with their parents free from state control. Parental rights should never automatically trump the interests of all others--most importantly, those of children themselves. For example, our approach would eliminate parental freedom to inflict corporal punishment on children on the ground that this type of punishment violates a child's interests in bodily integrity and rehabilitation. Our framework would also limit parents' rights to homeschool their children in most circumstances, requiring more intensive state oversight of homeschooling for children in the early years and prohibiting it altogether for most children past the primary grades, based primarily on children's interest in exposure to ideas. We reject the classic defense of parental rights--that they are necessary to limit state intervention in the family --by emphasizing the state's existing presence in the lives of all children and the role parental rights may play in suppressing children's diverse values and experiences. Instead of ignoring conflicts within the family and between the family and the state over children's present and future well-being, we accept such conflicts as necessary for understanding and furthering the broad range of children's interests as children.
Moreover, our approach supports the recognition and enforcement of children's affirmative rights rooted in their broader interests in the here and now. The new law of the child rejects the Supreme Court's decision in DeShaney v. Winnebago County Department of Social Services, which held that children have no affirmative right to safety within the home, thereby ignoring the shared responsibilities of both parents and the state to further children's interest in protection from harm at the hands of custodial caregivers. (1) In a direct departure from existing constitutional law, the new law of the child would recognize children's affirmative rights as children to certain goods and services essential to furthering their broader interests. In some cases, affirmative rights would entitle children to initiate court actions to enforce these rights, although these rights would primarily be enforced in custody, visitation, school, immigration, and other proceedings.
Our approach also reconceives children's interests in exercising control over their own lives as "agency" rights rather than "autonomy" rights. We do so in order to emphasize that children often have the capacity to make decisions for themselves at the same time that they are dependent upon adults. For example, in Tinker v. Des Moines...