This Article identifies and analyzes features of the juvenile delinquency court that harm the people on whom children most heavily depend: their parents. By negatively affecting a child’s family—creating financial stress, undermining a parent’s central role in rearing her child, and damaging the parent-child bond—these parent-harming features imperil a child’s healthy growth and development. In so doing, the Article argues, they contravene the juvenile court’s stated commitment to rehabilitation.
In juvenile court, fees and fines are assessed against parents, who also often must incur lost wages to comply with court orders. In addition, while youths of all economic backgrounds and races commit crimes, poor youth of color are disproportionately likely to become involved in the juvenile court. These parents, with less financial cushion, are uniquely likely to suffer as a result of imposed fees, fines, and lost wages.
Moreover, court actors regularly engage in at least three practices that infringe on parents’ dignity interests. First, judges conscript parents to act as the court’s eyes and ears, requiring regular reports about a child’s whereabouts and suspected misbehavior. Such requirements interfere with family privacy. They also deprive parents of the ability to make thoughtful and considered decisions about whether and to what extent they disclose information to state authorities that may result in restrictions on a child’s liberty and disruption of parents’ physical custodial rights over their child. Second, court actors regularly override—and sometimes fail to elicit in the first instance—parents’ views, disregarding established child development principles about the centrality of parents’ input in decisions affecting minor children. Third, courts can impose onerous requirements on parents, which are ostensibly designed to improve their parenting but lack evidence of efficacy or judicial findings of a link between a child’s misconduct and actions of the parent.
Such interference with the court’s rehabilitative aims, combined with the court’s socioeconomic and racial skew, suggest a need for more scrutiny by policymakers to eliminate those costs and harms to parents that are inequitable, unnecessary, and counterproductive.