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This Essay is based on a previous article: Clare Huntington & Elizabeth Scott, Conceptualizing Legal Childhood in the Twenty-First Century, 118 Mich. L. Rev. 1371 (2020) (offering a comprehensive account of the Child Wellbeing framework).

Since the 1960s, the law regulating children has become increasingly complex and uncertain. The relatively simple framework established in the Progressive Era, in which parents had primary authority over children subject to a limited supervisory and protective role of the state, has broken down. Lawmakers have begun to grant children some adult rights and privileges, raising questions about their traditional status as vulnerable, dependent, and legally incompetent beings. In the realm of crime regulation, law and policy have fluctuated between a rehabilitative model of juvenile justice and more punitive reforms, creating instability and uncertainty about the law's priorities in this domain. Advocates have attacked parental rights, the bulwark of traditional legal regulation, arguing that strong parental authority over children is anachronistic and harms the interests of children. Although parental rights continue to be robust, the rationale for strong parental rights is less clear than it once was.

In response to this uncertainty, and in an effort to bring clarity and coherence to this area of legal regulation, the American Law Institute (ALI) launched a new project in 2015: the Restatement of Law, Children and the Law …. (hereinafter Restatement of Children and the Law or Restatement). This project, which is ongoing, offers comprehensive coverage of the legal regulation of children. The Restatement is organized in four parts: Children in Families, Children in Schools, Children in the Justice System, and Children in Society. In fulfilling its ambitious goals, the Restatement has uncovered an emerging but coherent framework that shapes and integrates doctrine across this broad legal domain. As we explain in this Essay, the Restatement clarifies that regulation of children and families is not incoherent: Lawmakers in the twenty-first century increasingly are guided by a core principle and goal-the promotion of child well-being.


Family Law | Juvenile Law | Law


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