A New Day for Children

By Debra H. Lehrmann on January 31, 2018

It is a new day for our most precious resource—our children. The creation of the State Bar of Texas Child Protection Law Section became a reality on January 26, when the State Bar of Texas Board of Directors voted unanimously to form the new section. Both the Family Law and Juvenile Law sections enthusiastically supported this effort. This significant accomplishment represents decades of hard work on the part of many legal professionals throughout the state who are committed to improving the lives of children.

The history of child welfare protection law is relatively brief. Traditionally, children had few rights, with full authority over their lives being vested in their parents. A paradigm shift began in the 1960s with the help of several Supreme Court decisions extending certain constitutional rights to children. During the 1960s, the Department of Public Welfare began to deal head-on with abuse and neglect in Texas. In 1962, the U.S. Congress defined abuse and neglect in the child welfare provisions of the Public Welfare Amendments to the Social Security Act. And in 1974, the federal movement to prevent child abuse and neglect began in earnest with the creation of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, or CAPTA. This act created the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect, or NCCAN, and provided federal funding to state child-protection agencies.

Thankfully, the historical treatment of children as chattel has given way to our current recognition that children are individuals entitled to protection and respect. Today society realizes that children are frequently innocent participants in events over which they have no control and from which they must be sheltered. Two competing realities present real challenges in this area of the law: (1) children frequently lack the maturity and knowledge necessary to protect themselves and to make appropriate decisions, and (2) children are worthy individuals entitled to varying degrees of independence, deference, and respect depending upon their maturity levels.

As a jurist who has devoted much of my professional career to helping children, I am proud beyond words of this meaningful action taken by the State Bar. The willingness of the bar to create and support this section reflects society’s move toward recognition of children as autonomous beings with individual needs, desires, feelings, and concerns. I admire the State Bar of Texas for rising to the challenge—our children deserve it.

Debra H. Lehrmann is a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and the inaugural chair of the State Bar of Texas Child Protection Law Section.