December 24, 2020
The legal needs of children and their families are straightforward: our relationships must be recognized and protected, and youth in state custody must have the resources to thrive and have their identities affirmed. GLAD continues with its mission to update parentage laws and address the inequities so rife within the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. These systems most heavily impact marginalized communities: Black, Latinx, and Indigenous youth, and their families. And as the nation continues to navigate the global pandemic of COVID-19, GLAD has been working to support vulnerable families and marginalized youth most affected by this ongoing crisis.
Protecting Children and Families with Updated Parentage Laws
The support and stability that comes from a legally secure parent-child relationship provides the foundation of a child’s well-being. In many states, not every child has equal access to establishing this core legal relationship due to outdated laws which leave children vulnerable. GLAD is working to update parentage laws across New England so that they are constitutional and protect all children, regardless of the circumstances of their birth or the marital status or gender of their parents. Among other important protections, legislation based on the Uniform Parentage Act of 2017 provides clarity on how to establish parentage for children born through assisted reproduction, surrogacy, and to unmarried same-gender parents. As the law stands now in many states, not all children have ready access to the security of legal parentage, with some having to wait six months or longer to establish their parent-child relationship.
This vulnerability was highlighted recently in the case Adoption of Daphne, where a couple formed their family with the support of a person acting as a gestational carrier. Because of Massachusetts’ outdated parentage statutes, there was no mechanism to clarify the legal parentage of the child at birth, so the gestational carrier was the legal parent, and the child’s parentage could only be clarified by adoption. The Massachusetts trial court twice dismissed the adoption, and the child was left in a legal parentage limbo for almost two years. GLAD submitted an amicus (friend-of-the-court) brief in support of the intended parents and in April 2020, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court confirmed that Massachusetts had jurisdiction over the adoption and again urged the Legislature to act and update outdated statutes. Adoption of Daphne illustrates one of many gaps addressed by the Massachusetts Parentage Act, now pending in the Massachusetts legislature.
The need for parentage reform is an urgent priority, and we secured more than one important victory in New England this summer with the final passage of the Rhode Island Parentage Act and legislation expanding access to adoption in New Hampshire which streamlines the adoption process for children of LGBTQ parents and ensures that children born through assisted reproduction can access a court decree of parentage. “Children born to unmarried and LGBTQ parents, and children born through assisted reproduction, all need and deserve to have their parentage protected and respected in every jurisdiction,” said GLAD Staff Attorney Chris Erchull when the New Hampshire bill was signed into law. The critical legislation that passed in these states builds momentum so that more advances will follow, allowing all families to be protected by the law.
Advances in parentage protections are so important for our families and communities, and they can take years to build momentum into a victory. But as we did in Maine in 2015, Vermont in 2018, and Rhode Island and New Hampshire in 2020, we will keep working to pass these protections in Connecticut and Massachusetts in the next legislative session. If you have directly experienced the vulnerabilities of outdated parentage laws, you can help be a part of the work to protect children and families across New England. Click here to share your family’s story.
Partnering with Communities to Build Restorative Justice Practices and Incarceration Alternatives
In order to create better community supports for young people and alternatives to incarceration, GLAD is actively advocating for reforms in Maine’s juvenile justice system. Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto has been working with young people and adult allies to divert young people from the formal juvenile justice system before they are incarcerated, and to move them into restorative justice settings where they can keep their connection with family and community. With Rep. Victoria Morales, GLAD is supporting a bill to eliminate incarceration for some young people, reduce length of sentences, and provide periodic judicial reviews with counsel for those who are incarcerated. This work began in concert with other youth advocates, with direct representation of incarcerated young people, and gained further momentum with a March 2020 Report of the Maine Juvenile Justice Reinvestment Task Force, a body on which GLAD Civil Rights Project Director Mary Bonauto served.
The need for better community support is critical to creating spaces for marginalized youth to feel belonging and to plan for their future. The inequities of our society are shown clearly in who ends up in the juvenile justice system: youth facilities are disproportionately made up of youth of color and LGBTQ youth, as well as young people who are lower income or have disabilities.
This work cannot succeed without also addressing schools – the place where young people spend a significant part of their waking hours. The “school-to-prison-pipeline” refers to the proven connection between incarceration and previous school suspensions, disproportionate discipline of LGBTQ students and students of color, and over-policing in schools. One recent development in this area followed a months-long examination of the role of police in the Portland public high schools and public hearings in which GLAD participated. The School Board decided to transfer the funds used for school police officers to prevention, training, and restorative justice work in the schools and among staff, and to return to a system where police already on patrol can respond immediately for emergencies.
In Massachusetts, GLAD has been working on similar issues to reduce pipelines to incarceration as a part of the Juvenile Justice Coalition led by Citizens for Juvenile Justice. Legislative efforts in Massachusetts include bills to raise the maximum age for incarceration in the juvenile system to avoid deeper system involvement in the adult corrections system, to collect comprehensive demographic data on youth involved in the juvenile justice system, and to decriminalize consensual sexual activity between youth who are close in age. We will continue to advocate for legislative advances in the next session beginning in January 2021.
GLAD will continue to fight for LGBTQ youth and families and do all we can to ensure they are safe and supported in all areas of their lives.