The issue of “children’s rights” is clearly at the forefront of American jurisprudence today. However, it is only fairly recently that these issues have finally come to be prominently discussed by lawyers, judges, and legislatures. In fact, our common law history inherited from England treated children like property or “chattel”, not independent human beings with rights of their own. Since well over half of all of the cases currently filed in the State of Colorado involve family law matters, this is now an area that deservedly gets the attention of public policymakers in this state.
Though the law continues to develop in the area of children’s rights, there are some key, emerging trends:
- Juvenile Court Systems: In most jurisdictions, including Colorado, there is a separate and independent court system to handle cases involving juveniles. The goal of the juvenile justice system is to protect and rehabilitate juvenile offenders and their families. It is based on the concept of parens patrie, a Latin term for the parental role that the court system takes to protect children. The courts continue to struggle to develop new and innovative ways to provide services to help keep families intact, and to keep juvenile offenders out of the adult criminal justice system.
- National Advocacy Organizations: Hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated attorneys, social workers, and physicians are at the forefront of protecting children’s rights across the country and throughout the world. These groups are making significant strides in educating the public and passing child-friendly legislation at the local, state, and national level. In fact, Denver is the proud home of several, such organizations, including the National Association of Counsel for Children, the Rocky Mountain Children’s Law Center, and the Kempe Children’s Center.
- Growth of Legal Protections for Children: Colorado is on the cutting edge nationally when it comes to legal developments in the area of family law. The area of children’s rights is no exception. For example, the family law courts continue to develop ways to allow for early intervention in divorce and custody cases to help speed court relief for families. Since family law judges increasingly frown upon children’s testimony, court-approved “special advocates” are required to report to the court the child’s wishes in a custody case. Child support enforcement authorities have been given a number of tools to help collect from “deadbeat” parents, including ways to intercept tax refunds, suspend drivers’ licenses, and garnishee wages and bank accounts.
There are a great number of additional protections needed for children. This topic is finally getting the attention it deserves, and there is little doubt that it will be discussed in the U.S. for years to come. The biggest challenge that child’s rights advocates face may be in funding the initiatives and the public education. We have come far, but certainly have a long way to go. All of us who care about children and the law are encouraged to support the organizations listed above.