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Parens Patriae- The Law of The Land

Updated on May 23, 2011

Parens Patriae is a doctrine that grants the inherent power and authority of the state to protect persons who are legally unable to act on their own behalf. The term Parens Patriae means father of the country in Latin and used in juvenile cases that involve child abuse or a child that is in danger with the environment that he or she is in.

Agreement of Nations
Agreement of Nations | Source

In The Beginning

The Parens Patriae doctrine was first developed in English common law. It was first invoked by the kings’ bench in 1608 and was meant for those parents that were without moral mind, and were ultimately unable to parent children. In feudal times various obligations and powers, collectively referred to as the "royal prerogative," were reserved and ultimately relied on the king to protect the children of his country. The king exercised these functions in his role of father of the country, exercising the doctrine of Parens Patriae.

The way it was

When the Parens Patriae doctrine was created it made juveniles have no legal rights or standing in any court. But it allowed for juveniles to have a chance and to be protected when the situation called for it. If a juvenile had committed a crime then his/her fate was in the hands of a chancellor, who was acting on behalf of the kings agents. The children became wards of the court and the court was vested with the responsibility of their well-being. The parents had no legal way to change the courts decisions, and ultimately forced to lose all there parental rights as well, leaving the kids and parents powerless. This would pose a problem in later cases in the United States.

Although the doctrine is old, it has stayed intact through the 17th and 18th centuries and is used quite often in cases involving juveniles today.

The State's Reason

Parens patriae, as promoted in National Socialist Germany.
Parens patriae, as promoted in National Socialist Germany. | Source

the rules today

The doctrine of Parens Patriae has been expanded in the United States to permit the attorney general of a state to commence litigation for the benefit of state residents for federal antitrust violations. This authority is intended to further the public's trust, safeguard the general and economic welfare of a state's residents, protect residents from illegal practices, and assure that the benefits of federal law are not denied to the general population. Although there is a very wide inconsistency from state to state when Parens Patriae is used, it's sole purpose is to protect the mentally and physically restricted of our nation.

In the United States, the Parens Patriae doctrine has had its greatest application in the treatment of children, mentally ill persons, and other individuals who are legally incompetent to manage their affairs. The state is the supreme guardian of all children within its jurisdiction, and state courts have the inherent power to intervene to protect the best interests of children whose welfare is jeopardized by controversies between parents, or the lack of guardianship. This inherent power is generally supplemented by legislative acts that define the scope of child protection in a state.

Today the Parens Patriae Doctrine has been altered to give juveniles a better chance to rehabilitate. Most cases are nominal or conditional, which means that most cases end in community service, verbal warning, or a fine. Confinement for juveniles today is used as a last resort, and most cases are tried at the juvenile level, rather than the criminal level. Juveniles today also have a chance to appeal a decision in most cases and our read their Miranda rights before being placed into custody. This change was due in large part to In Re Gault.



Champion, Dean John. The Juvenile Justice System (Delinduency, Processing, and the Law). 6thth ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008. 6-10. Print.

Law, American. "Parens Patriae." Google, 2010. Web. 29 Mar. 2011. <>.


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    • profile image

      Joan Mullins 

      14 months ago

      This article was very enlightening, it helped me to under the parens patriae a little bit better.


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