The End of Family Court: How Abolishing the Court Brings Justice to Children and Families
Part of the Families, Law, and Society series.
At the turn of the twentieth century, American social reformers created the first juvenile court. They imagined a therapeutic court where informality, specially trained public servants, and a kindly, all-knowing judge would assist children and families. But the dream of a benevolent means of judicial problem-solving was never realized. A century later, children and families continue to be failed by this deeply flawed court.
The End of Family Court rejects the foundational premise that family court can do good when intervening in family life and challenges its endless reinvention to survive. Jane M. Spinak illustrates how the procedures and policies of modern family court are deeply entwined in a heritage of racism, a profound disdain for poverty, and assimilationist norms intent on fixing children and families who are different. And the court’s interventionist goals remain steeped in an approach to equity and well-being that demands individual rather than collective responsibility for the security and welfare of families.
Spinak proposes concrete steps toward abolishing the court: shifting most family supports out of the court’s sphere, vastly reducing the types and number of matters that need court intervention, and ensuring that any case that requires legal adjudication has the due process protections of a court of law. She calls for strategies that center trusting and respecting the abilities of communities to create and sustain meaningful solutions for families. An abolitionist approach, in turn, celebrates a radical imagination that embraces and supports all families in a fair and equal economic and political democracy.
Courts | Family Law | Juvenile Law | Law
New York University Press
New York, NY
"By tracing the origins and persistence of the Great Idea behind the family court — that judges can save children by fixing them and their families — Jane Spinak shows how the court not only has failed to achieve its asserted therapeutic mission, but also has inflicted tremendous harm on its presumed beneficiaries. The End of Family Court makes a compelling case that dismantling the family court is a critical part of abolishing family policing and radically reimagining care for children without destructive state interventions."
—Dorothy Roberts, author of Torn Apart: How the Child Welfare System Destroys Black Families — And How Abolition Can Build A Safer World
"An original and striking contribution to the interdisciplinary field of child welfare and juvenile justice. Spinak provides the most compelling abolitionist argument to date. "
—David Tanenhaus, James E. Rogers Professor of History and Law, University of Nevada, Las Vegas
"This fascinating and important book is much more than the history of juvenile court. It is a refreshing – and powerful – critique of an institution that has never achieved anything close to its purported aspirations. Instead, as Jane Spinak shows, the one accomplishment juvenile court and its defenders have achieved is to fend off countless critiques that it doesn’t deserve to survive. But the evidence amassed by Spinak in this book should lead us all to the conclusion she reaches: now is the time to close down this institution and stop harming the families and children that is its legacy. "
—Martin Guggenheim, Fiorello LaGuardia Professor of Clinical Law Emeritus, New York University School of Law
"Important and original. The book’s greatest strength is that it considers and interrogates both the juvenile justice and the child welfare aspects of today’s family court. This distinguishes Spinak’s work from almost all other previous scholarship in the area, and it allows Spinak to explore and critique the common themes and assumptions that animate these two related areas of law and practice."
—Jana Singer, co-author of Divorced from Reality: Rethinking Family Dispute Resolution
"This is a compelling and important read from an advocate, ally, and scholar with forty years of experience representing children and families in New York City. Her solutions for shrinking and ultimately dismantling the court draw explicitly from abolitionist theory and elevate the lessons learned from community activists most harmed."
—Kristin Henning, author of The Rage of Innocence: How America Criminalizes Black Youth
"Spinak argues in favor of dramatically reducing juvenile courts. Well-written and accessible, professionals and general readers will appreciate this incisive review by a juvenile-court expert."
Spinak, Jane M., "The End of Family Court: How Abolishing the Court Brings Justice to Children and Families" (2023). Faculty Books. 369.