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.