The eight-year undertaking that has produced the Restatement of Children and the Law has uncovered a deep logic and coherence to legal doctrine and policy in this domain. Over more than a century, lawmakers have reimagined the benign goal of promoting the well-being of children, first enunciated in the Progressive era. The work of the Restatement demonstrates that this goal continues to be the core animating principle of legal regulation of children; but the Child Wellbeing framework strengthens the principle in three important ways: First, modern law is informed and supported by a large body of developmental science and programmatic research, which provides a sounder basis for regulation than the intuitions and assumptions of earlier lawmakers. Second, modern regulation is bolstered by an understanding that the promotion of child well-being also advances social welfare. And finally, lawmakers are beginning to recognize and address the ways in which pervasive racial bias and inequality have shaped the law in this area. There is much work to be done in realizing the potential of the framework; indeed, the project of rooting out racial bias has only begun. But the Restatement itself may contribute to a sturdier foundation for regulation in the future. The Restatement offers an integrated regulatory regime in which the state, the parents, and the child share a unified interest in the child’s well-being. The integration provided by the Child Wellbeing principle clarifies that Children and the Law is a coherent field of law; it is not the “law of the horse.”
Part 3 of the Restatement of Children and the Law, “Children in the Justice System,” reflects recent dramatic reform in juvenile law and practice. The reform recognizes that kids are different, requiring special attention to protecting due process when the justice system must make decisions in delinquency cases. The Restatement’s analyses use neuroscientific and psychosocial developmental research that has improved our understanding of children’s and adolescents’ immature decision-making capacities and psychosocial vulnerability compared to adults. This developmental perspective has led to extensive reform of laws and practices that seek to better protect juveniles’ due process rights when in custody of the juvenile justice system. Analyzing established law and progressive trends, the Restatement offers guidance for the legal system and process, highlighting the need for continued changes in courts and legislatures not yet in step with prevailing trends in juvenile law. This commentary examines two topics in Part 3 of the Restatement: Chapter 15, § 15.30 on “Adjudicative Competence in Delinquency Proceedings,” and Chapter 14, § 14-2 on “Interrogations and the Admissibility of Statements.” For both areas, the commentary examines the present state of law, policy, and practice trends identified by the Restatement, with special attention to needs for further reform. What evidence do we have that states are adopting, or are slow to adopt, important trends in juvenile law identified in the Restatement’s approach to juvenile adjudicative competence and pretrial custodial interrogations? Where is there still work to be done to promote changes in law highlighted by the Restatement, and what factors challenge that work?
The ALI launched the Restatement of Children and the Law to bring clarity and coherence to the increasingly complex and uncertain landscape of the juvenile court and the law related to children. As the Restatement surveys the courts’ growing respect for the developmental plasticity and potential of children, it is crucial that the law afford all youth—regardless of race and class—the full benefits of the developmental research and enhanced procedural protections. Despite the limitations of any project that seeks primarily to recite existing law, this Restatement has great potential to advance racial equity in the care and regulation of youth. The Restatement should tell a complete story, including information to help readers understand how youth of color are impacted by the law. By painstakingly locating and embracing judicial opinions that acknowledge the role of race in juvenile, criminal, and family law, and by incorporating relevant history, data, research, and analysis, the Restatement can serve a crucial role in educating readers on the sources of and remedy for racial inequities in the various legal systems that affect children.
Two uniquely qualified and accomplished experts have agreed to comment on the current draft of the Restatement from the perspectives of adolescent development and racial equity. First, Thomas Grisso, Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, addresses the proposed Restatement’s approach to the assessment of adolescent decisional capacity, a pivotal feature of the law’s evolving effort to ground the law in advancing knowledge about adolescent development. Second, Kristin Henning, Blume Professor of Law at the Georgetown Law Center, reflects on the profound challenge our legal system faces in the effort to achieve unbiased, fair, and effective responses to youthful offending. This essay responds to their respective critiques and proposals.
All education law and policy is built on one theory of educational decision-making or another. In this Essay, I have identified the theory of educational decision-making that underlies a core aspect of education law today, as synthesized in the Restatement of Children and the Law. It is a theory that brings the state, professional educators, and parents to the table. The New Parents’ Rights Movement, by contrast, seeks to center parents as the primary educational decision-makers, and the consequences of such a shift have the potential to exacerbate the escalating polarization that grips our country by unsettling the balance in educational decision-making that has anchored education law and policy for a century or more. Furthermore, the New Parents’ Rights Movement also seeks to enact a series of changes that not only give parents more control over their own children, but also would allow some parents to impose anti-egalitarian values broadly within public schools by controlling the content of curriculum, removing books from public school libraries, and introducing other policies that further marginalize individuals who are already minoritized based on their race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. Such law and policy changes have been proposed across the country and at all levels of government. The resulting battles are intense, and for good reason.
How do we teach our young people to engage in constructive dialogue and find common purpose across lines of race, class, religion, and politics? In this era of polarization, the ideal of the common school where children of all walks of life learn together can seem somewhat quaint and unattainable. Given the geographic and demographic limitations of our K–12 schools, I wonder if it is time to reconsider an idea often floated but never adopted: one year of mandatory community service after high school (sometimes called “national service,” but it need not be “national” in design or governance), designed to assemble young people across lines of difference to work together in food banks, afterschool programs, youth centers, veterans’ facilities, health clinics, and other areas of community need. Through a shared, hands-on experience of public service, our youth can learn to appreciate differences, build bridges, respect one another, and understand their role in strengthening our democracy. Might this one day become part of a sound basic education, if we take seriously the preparation of our children for responsible and effective citizenship? The Restatement, appropriately, does not venture beyond the K–12 framework in defining a sound basic education because courts and legislatures have not done so. But the Restatement, also appropriately, elucidates a deeper thread in our treatment of children—what Professor Scott calls the developmental approach—which straddles the duality, inherent in any Restatement, of what is and what ought to be. Our world is ever changing, and the developmental needs of our youth change too. Structures and standards that were once suitable may become inadequate over time. There may come a day when a sound basic education encompasses not only primary and secondary education in their current forms, but also a well-developed opportunity infrastructure during early childhood and beyond high school. That day may come sooner than we think, given the needs of our children and the society they will inherit. If so, this treatise will stand up well, for one hallmark of an insightful restatement is that it not only states the law as it is, but also, in its explication, marks the path of its own transcendence.
Justice Goodwin Liu and Professor Kristine Bowman have taken two very different approaches in their essays commenting on the Restatement’s coverage of the law governing children’s education. In Some Thoughts on a Developmental Approach to a Sound Basic Education, Justice Liu focuses near exclusively on the Restatement’s articulation of the core educational standard, the “sound basic education,” and presses for an expanded application of that standard to children from birth through young adulthood. In The New Parents’ Rights Movement, Education, and Equality, Bowman addresses the entire structure of the educational provisions of the Restatement, which straddle Part 1, “Children in Families,” and Part 2, “Children in Schools,” and warns us of the fragility of the balance between these two sources of educational control in our legal system. Attending these differences in focus are important differences in tone: Justice Liu is optimistically ambitious, calling for developments in the law that extend beyond what can currently be restated. Professor Bowman is pessimistic, predicting that the recent “parents’ rights movement” threatens the stability of the restated law, to the detriment of children’s and society’s well-being. At the same time, the two pieces share important common ground. Most significantly, they share a concern about the growing polarization in our society and a belief that our system of education must play a central role in resisting this trend. In this Essay, I will first briefly set out the Restatement’s approach to education, which spans several chapters in two parts of the Restatement. Next, I will consider Professor Bowman’s essay addressing the threats she identifies and the role the Restatement can play in resisting those threats. I will then consider Justice Liu’s more optimistic anticipation of future developments in the law and the role the Restatement could play in fostering those developments. I will conclude by suggesting that avoiding Professor Bowman’s threats and achieving Justice Liu’s aspirations will largely depend on the democratic process, a process not governed by the Restatement, but perhaps subject to the influence of some of the legal principles it highlights.
The Restatement of Children and the Law features a strong endorsement of parents’ rights to the care, custody, and control of their children because parents’ rights are generally good for children. Building on that foundation, the Restatement’s sections on child neglect and abuse law would resolve several jurisdictional splits in favor of greater protections for family integrity, thus protecting more families against the harms that come from state intervention, especially state separation of parents from children. But a close read of the Restatement shows that it only goes so far. It is not likely to significantly reduce the wide variation in practice by jurisdiction, nor will it satisfy calls for a more fundamental transformation of the legal system. For instance, the Restatement requires consideration of the harm of removing children from their parents, without explaining how to weigh that against possible harms of remaining at home. It provides that poverty alone does not amount to neglect, without providing much guidance on the difficult question of how to implement that principle. The Restatement creates a clear preference for placement with relatives over strangers, without clarifying what suffices to overcome those preferences. It recognizes a right of parents and children separated by the state to visit with “frequency,” without defining that term. This analysis is not a criticism of the Restatement—by codifying existing law, it does what the Restatement should do. Rather, this analysis highlights how this Restatement can contribute to child neglect and abuse law in the present context. It can help nudge the law in a modestly improved direction and highlight areas that require more transformative legal changes.
Professor Josh Gupta-Kagan observes that the Restatement of Children and the Law does not transform the law of child abuse and neglect. As he contends, this is neither a feature nor a bug. It is simply the reality of a restatement, which can only nudge, not reform, the law. I agree with Gupta-Kagan that only political will, not the American Law Institute (ALI), can fix the significant problems with the family regulation system. For advocates and scholars—including both of us—who seek structural and doctrinal change, the ALI has principles projects, and there is a broader ecosystem for law reform. But the nature of a restatement is to restate. Notwithstanding this inherent constraint, I want to underscore one aspect of Gupta-Kagan’s argument and suggest that the Restatement does more than may first meet the eye. Gupta-Kagan applauds the Restatement’s embrace of parental rights for families facing coercive state intervention through the family regulation system. He demonstrates that at several doctrinal forks, the Restatement relies on parental rights to choose the rule that is more protective of family integrity. As Gupta-Kagan shows, by emphasizing these rights, the Restatement reinforces the doctrinal shield that helps protect marginalized families from state intervention. I second the value of this shield, but in my view, the Restatement does something else as well. By restating the doctrine of parental rights—as it applies in the family regulation system and more broadly—the Restatement offers an institutional counterbalance to the heated partisan rhetoric around parental rights. Across the country, political leaders and advocates are claiming that these rights mean parents can control school curricula, minors cannot access reproductive health care without parental involvement, and parents must know about a child’s exploration of gender identity outside the home. This invocation of parental rights is not an attempt to recalibrate doctrine. It is a political strategy for advancing a world view. And it is highly effective, leading to considerable legislative success, at least for the moment. Legal scholars appropriately identify the dangers in this political strategy, but, as I argue in this brief response Essay, even as we recognize the problems with the rhetorical invocation of parental rights, we cannot lose sight of the doctrinal importance of parental rights. As I elaborate below, in both its process and substance, the Restatement quietly and steadily affirms existing legal doctrine. The Restatement identifies the core interest at stake in parental rights: the relationship of a parent and child and the ability for one to be with the other. Protecting the parent-child relationship is important for all families, but it is especially critical for marginalized families, who are at heightened risk of family separation. And by underscoring these interests and their deep doctrinal roots, the Restatement may (optimistically), provide a counterbalance to the ongoing culture wars.
The Restatement of Children and the Law, protects a child’s relationship with a “de facto parent”—a person who has “established a bonded and dependent relationship with the child that is parental in nature.” De facto parent doctrines are part of a broader category of functional parent doctrines that extend parental rights to an individual who has developed a parent-child relationship and acted as a parent to the child. Application of the de facto parent doctrine depends on a conclusion that the person formed a parental relationship, and yet debate remains over whether the person is a parent or merely a third-party nonparent. This Essay examines the Restatement’s full-throated embrace of a de facto parent doctrine—an immensely important development—in the context of family law’s evolving treatment of functional parents. In the past, family law generally cast functional parents as nonparents. For example, a 1995 state court decision, on which the Restatement relies, treated a de facto parent as a third party entitled merely to visitation with the child she had raised. More recently, family law has grown to see functional parents as parents. Common law doctrines have regarded de facto parents as entitled to the rights and responsibilities of parenthood, and a growing number of states have adopted statutory provisions that treat functional parents as legal parents. The Restatement’s approach to de facto parents reflects these developments. Even as the Restatement begins by locating de facto parents in a framework designed around conflicts between legal parents and third parties, it distinguishes de facto parents in ways that render them, both conceptually and legally, like parents. Indeed, the Restatement pushes well beyond the American Law Institute’s earlier endorsement of a de facto parent doctrine—the 2002 Principles of the Law of Family Dissolution, which recognized de facto parents but consigned them to an inferior legal status. After situating the Restatement’s approach to de facto parents within broader family law developments, this Essay explores how the evolving status of functional parents—from nonparent to parent—matters to constitutional understandings of the parent-child relationship. To account for the fundamental right of parents to direct their children’s upbringing, including by excluding third parties, the Restatement requires a de facto parent to show that “a parent consented to and fostered the formation of the parent-child relationship between the individual and the child.” This consent-based approach to de facto parenthood proceeds from an assumption that a functional parent is a third party who, based not only on their conduct but also on the conduct of an existing legal parent, can transcend that third-party status. Yet, seeing de facto parents as parents prompts skepticism of this constitutionally grounded consent requirement. Such skepticism is reflected in law, as courts have resisted a restrictive application of the requirement, and newly enacted statutory doctrines have explicitly softened the requirement. Further, the fact that other functional parent doctrines, including those that yield legal parentage, do not expressly require parental consent suggests that consent is not a constitutional requirement. More broadly, the focus on consent obscures the constitutional interests of the functional parent, who, like other parents, may have a constitutional claim to parental recognition.
Professor Douglas NeJaime’s Essay Parents in Fact commends the Restatement of Children and the Law’s embrace of the de facto parent doctrine. He is somewhat critical, however, of the Restatement’s reference to individuals seeking recognition as de facto parents as “third parties” and its reluctance to recognize de facto parents as legal parents. He is also skeptical of the Restatement’s requirement that an individual seeking recognition as a de facto parent first show that a legal parent consented to and fostered the individual’s creation of a parent-child relationship with the child. NeJaime’s observations provide an opportunity to clarify the scope and constraints of a restatement—which requires “clear formulations of common law” rules and must “reflect the law as it presently stands” but also provides space, albeit limited, for expression of “the relative desirability of competing rules.” NeJaime’s reflections also allow us to illustrate how silence—not taking a position—on issues that courts have yet to decide furthers the Restatement’s legitimacy while minimizing the risk that it will be “a roadblock to change” as the law evolves.
The Restatement’s focus on children in society encourages us to move beyond a merely descriptive project toward a new way of envisioning children’s place in law as full persons in the present. In our view, Part 4 does much more than identify the situations where the law does or should treat children like adult decision-makers. Instead, Part 4 illuminates the possibilities for a new law of the child that understands children as developing persons deeply connected to but also distinct from the adults in their lives. We focus on § 18.11––“Minors’ Right to Gain Access to Information and Other Expressive Content”––to illustrate how the subtle transformation in Part 4 of the Restatement points toward potentially pathbreaking changes for the law of children generally. This Essay draws upon our prior work in order to illuminate the major contributions––but also shortcomings––of Part 4 of the Restatement of Children and Law. In the first Part of this Essay, we examine the Restatement’s focus on children’s interests in accessing ideas and the Restatement’s endorsement of parental authority to control that access. We applaud the Restatement’s important discussion of the background and rationale for recognizing children’s right to access information and expressive materials. Yet we note that the Restatement undermines its own commitment to children’s free speech interests by expressly endorsing parents’ broad authority to limit children’s access to ideas. In the second Part, we explore what it would mean to respect children’s right to access ideas on their own, free from parental control. We focus on the example of social media because of its importance in children’s lives today and note that broad parental authority to limit this access, as set forth in the Restatement and in recent legislation in Utah and Arkansas, potentially harms children’s interests. The third Part proposes alternative black-letter law designed to better promote children’s interests in accessing ideas.