Is it the Role of the Courts to Govern Children?

This important post is from guest blogger Sara Vaughn, Regent 2L and current Family Law student:

Currently most states, including Virginia, have statutes granting the juvenile court jurisdiction over the conduct of children classified as "status offenses." These status offenses are acts that disregard their parents' lawful guidance and discipline by breaking curfew, truancy, or like conduct not amounting to the violation of any criminal law. These children are classified by the courts as children in need of supervision (CHINS). However, once the court has become involved, the parents' rights are subject to the state's discretion and supervision. If court-ordered remedial measures are deemed unsuccessful then the child will often be ordered to a correctional institution where they are housed with juveniles delinquents committed for criminal charges.

In one Washington case, a father involved in an escalating conflict with his 16-year old daughter brought the girl into the court system in an attempt to resolve an ongoing feud stemming from his denial to let the girl participate in extracurricular activities at her school, his disapproval at her choice of friends, and his refusal to allow her to date. In this case, In re Snyder's Welfare, 85 Wash. 2d 182, the court ordered both parties to counseling. After it became clear their issues were not being resolved through counseling the judge found that the child was "incorrigible" and sent found it in the best interests of the child to be placed into foster care over the protests of her parents. On appeal the Washington Supreme Court upheld the lower court's decision.

Most CHINS statutes have been upheld as constitutional.  See Blondheim v. State, 84 Wash. 2d 874. Proponents of CHINS believe the program serves to ensure these children have regular school attendance and prevent them from harming themselves. Critics argue that the responsibility of raising children should be left to the discretion of the family, the church, and other community organizations, as parents are best empowered to accomplish the best interests of their own children. [To learn more about the juvenile law doctrine of the best interests of the child see http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1957143 .]  Restoring families can be a complicated action. Both sides should be aware of the potential for complex problems that may arise when parents of a child are separated, embittered, or have fundamentally opposing views on raising children.   

Law is more than a profession - it's a calling.

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