The American Law Institute’s membership voted today to approve Restatement of the Law, Children and the Law, the first Restatement to comprehensively examine the legal regulation of children. Launched in 2015, this Restatement covers issues such as parental rights and state intervention in cases of abuse and neglect; the rights of students and the limits of state authority in public schools; the rights and special protections of youth in both the juvenile and criminal justice systems, from police contact to dispositions and sentencing; and children as legal persons, covering free-speech rights and the authority of minors to consent to certain medical decisions, among other things.

The Restatement is led by Reporter Elizabeth Scott of Columbia Law School, with Associate Reporters Richard J. Bonnie of University of the Virginia School of Law, Emily Buss of the University of Chicago Law School, Clare Huntington of Columbia Law School, and Solangel Maldonado of Seton Hall University School of Law. Martin Guggenheim of New York University School of Law and David D. Meyer of Brooklyn Law School also previously served as Associate Reporters.

“We are thrilled to be completing this project at an ideal time in the evolution of the law of children,” said project Reporter Elizabeth Scott. “The law’s treatment of children has become very complex over the past several decades and has been in need of clarification and coherence. While traditionally children were assumed to be dependent, vulnerable and incompetent, today they are rights-bearing legal persons for some purposes—but not others. Meanwhile parental rights continue to be robust, but have been subject to growing criticism. And the past generation has seen remarkable reform of the regulation of youth in the justice system after a period of harsh policies in the late 20th century. The challenge we faced in embarking on this Restatement was to find coherence in this evolving area of law and to capture beneficial law reform. With the assistance of a wonderful Adviser group and the ALI Council, we think we have been successful.

The Restatement is organized in four Parts: Children in Families, Children in Schools, Children in the Justice System, and Children in Society.

“We hope that organizing this work into these various natural categories of the law of children makes this resource easily navigable and accessible by not just the lawyers and judges who are familiar with our Restatements, but also for the social workers, school administrators, and other child advocates looking for guidance on developments in any of these areas,” said ALI Director Diane P. Wood.

“Although jurisdictions vary in their treatment of some areas of law,” continued Scott, “our research found an underlying coherence that unifies the legal treatment of children; across the legal landscape, modern courts aim to promote child wellbeing. In pursuing this goal, modern courts increasingly turn to developmental science and other empirical research on children and families and

on the parent-child relationship. This Restatement follows this trend, which has contributed to positive reforms, particularly in the realm of youth justice, but in other areas as well.

“Working closely with our amazing advisory group, which included a social science advisory panel of experts, we took on some of the most complicated issues in the law of children. For example, we sought to bring clarity to the definition of children as legal persons, and to articulate when and why they sometimes possess the same rights as adults. In areas where children are treated differently from adults, we have attempted to clarify and restate protections for children, particularly in the sections on Children in the Justice System. This was perhaps our most important goal—to capture the law’s protection of children, while incorporating its recognition that children are legal persons, whose wellbeing sometimes is advanced by having the legal rights of adults.”

“This Restatement grapples with enormously complex issues in a balanced and sophisticated manner, weaving together a deep understanding not only of legal doctrine but also of public policy and a variety of other disciplines, including developmental psychology and neuroscience to support and explain the law that governs children,” added ALI Director Wood. “It will be a useful and influential resource. For that, the Institute is enormously grateful to the Reporters as well as to their dedicated Advisers and Members Consultative Group.”

The Reporters, subject to oversight by the Director, will now prepare the Institute’s official text for publication. At this stage, the Reporters are authorized to correct and update citations and other references, to make editorial and stylistic improvements, and to implement any remaining substantive changes agreed to during discussion with the membership or by motions approved at the Annual Meeting. Until the official text is published, the drafts approved by the membership are the official position of ALI, and may be cited as such.

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About The American Law Institute
The American Law Institute is the leading independent organization in the United States producing scholarly work to clarify, modernize, and improve the law. The ALI drafts, discusses, revises, and publishes Restatements of the Law, Model Codes, and Principles of Law that are influential in the courts and legislatures, as well as in legal scholarship and education. By participating in the Institute’s work, its distinguished members have the opportunity to influence the development of the law in both existing and emerging areas, to work with other eminent lawyers, judges, and academics, to support the rule of law and the legal system, and to contribute to the public good.

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Richard Bonnie

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Richard J. Bonnie is Harrison Foundation Professor of Medicine and Law Emeritus at the University of Virginia School of Law, having retired from teaching in 2023. He formerly served as director of the Institute of Law, Psychiatry and Public Policy at the University of Virginia. ­­He teaches and writes about health law and policy, bioethics, criminal law, and public policies relating to mental health, substance abuse, and public health. He has co-authored leading textbooks on criminal law and public health law.

Emily Buss

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Emily Buss's research interests include children's and parents' rights and the legal system's allocation of responsibility for children’s development among parent, child, and state. In recent years, she has focused particular attention on the developmental impact of court proceedings on court-involved children, including foster youth and youth accused of crimes. In addition to courses focused on the subjects of her research, Buss teaches civil procedure, evidence, and family law. 

Clare Huntington

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Clare Huntington is an expert in the fields of family law and poverty law. Her book, Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships (Oxford 2014), won an Honorable Mention for the Professional and Scholarly Excellence (PROSE) Award in Law and Legal Studies from the Association of American Publishers. She has published widely in leading law journals, exploring the intersection of poverty and families and with a recent focus on non-marital families.

Solangel Maldonado

Associate Reporter, Children and the Law

Solangel Maldonado is the Joseph M. Lynch Professor of Law at Seton Hall Law.  Her research and teaching interests include family law, feminist legal theory, race and the law, and international and comparative family law. Over the past decade, her scholarship has focused on the intersection of race and family law and the law’s influence on social norms of post-separation parenthood. She is currently working on a book for NYU Press that examines how the law shapes romantic preferences and how these preferences perpetuate racial hierarchy and economic and social inequality.

Elizabeth S. Scott

Reporter, Children and the Law

Elizabeth S. Scott is the Harold R. Medina Professor of Law at Columbia Law School. Scott teaches family law, property, criminal law, and children and the law. She has written extensively on marriage, divorce, cohabitation, child custody, adolescent decision-making, and juvenile delinquency. Her research is interdisciplinary, applying behavioral economics, social science research, and developmental theory to family/juvenile law and policy issues.

Jennifer Morinigo

The American Law Institute