Children’s rights issues arise in many contexts, from their right to representation in abuse and neglect cases to their rights when charged with violating the law. Family law lawyers must advocate for the best interests of the child, which can mean arguing for removal from the home to safeguard the child from harmful circumstances, or arguing for remaining in the home for rehabilitative purposes rather than removal for purposes of punishment. Children’s rights encompass as broad a spectrum as those of adults, but are perhaps even more complicated because children are less able to advocate for their own interests.
The issue of juvenile rights in delinquency proceedings, or proceedings in which juveniles are charged with committing an act that would be a crime if committed by an adult, has received considerable attention in recent years. Following several landmark United States Supreme Court decisions, many changes were made in the juvenile court system. As a result, children are now afforded greater due process protections, which include many of the same rights granted to adult offenders in the criminal court system, such as the rights to notice and a hearing, to confront witnesses, against self-incrimination and to have an attorney. However, the juvenile court system differs from the adult system in at least one very critical respect; the focus of juvenile court is rehabilitation, not punishment.
Children’s due process rights may also be an issue in schools. Such rights raise questions about unreasonable searches and seizures, whether a child can be subjected to corporal punishment by a teacher or school administrator and what rights a child has when he or she has been suspended or expelled. Another issue is a child’s right to safety. Sometimes the due process rights of some students may conflict with other students’ right to be safe, as tragic incidents of school violence increase.
Despite many advances, children’s rights are still often viewed as subordinate to those of adults. In the area of privacy rights, for example, the courts have recognized that the Constitution does protect children, but not to the same degree that it protects adults. This issue often arises with sharing a child’s medical information with his or her parents. The debate over whether to notify parents of a child’s pregnancy, abortion or other reproductive health information also continues, and the resolution of these issues may vary from state to state.
Medical issues may also arise when protecting a child’s right to medical care. The state may intervene when a sick child’s parents refuse to allow the child to have life-saving medical treatment (often for religious reasons). In this situation, the courts and lawmakers have been debating how aggressive the state should be in intervening in the parent-child relationship. The discussion centers on how far parents’ rights extend, and when the child’s rights take precedence.
Parents’ rights clearly do not take precedence over those of their children when the parents are abusive or neglectful. In such cases, state or other local governmental agencies will step in to protect the children. The best interests of the child are always of overriding importance in these cases. Often, the court will appoint a guardian ad litem to advocate the child’s best interests in court.
Children’s rights encompass a broad spectrum of concerns, and a lawyer experienced in this area of the law can best advise the child and other interested parties on the legal issues involved.
Preparing to Meet with Your Family Law Attorney
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