Children, Youth and the Law (Turnbull)

Course Number
LAW 3090
Course Description

Relationships between child, family, state and law are examined within an interdisciplinary context, through the lens of rights theories, critical Indigenous approaches, and the public/private distinction. The needs and rights of children in the courts and the particular challenges of older children/young adults at the boundary between childhood and adulthood are also examined. Students will consider how principles of reconciliation and various rights frameworks, including equality rights, might help to structure the regulation of children and youth and their families, including through the youth criminal justice and child welfare systems. Manitoba has among the highest rates of children in the care of the state both nationally and globally. Indigenous children are significantly overrepresented as a result of ongoing systemic discrimination and colonialism.

The 2013 report of the Inquiry into the death of Phoenix Sinclair, entitled “Achieving the Best for All Our Children” finds that the wellbeing of children is a shared responsibility that requires the recognition of children’s rights, and prevention and early intervention, through a partnership of various government services, community organizations and community members. The course uses the report as a framework for the topics studied. Core concepts relating to the sovereignty of Indigenous peoples, the history and legacy of residential schools, as well as intercultural competencies and anti-racism among other elements of Call to Action 28 of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, inform all aspects of this course. Equality and belonging are two further overarching themes. Students are expected to engage with all of these themes in the classroom and in their individual work.

It is a fundamental goal of this course that students will critically examine the rights of all children to have their basic needs met and the systemic racism in the functioning of the current legal regime governing children, youth, and their families.

COURSE CONTENT: Children and youth in the last few decades have been given special recognition and increased protection under provincial, federal and international law. But doctrines and beliefs developed in periods when the social value of children was low, and the legal duty of parents and the state minimal, continue to influence the way the law views children. Values associated with parental autonomy and family privacy, and beliefs about the capacity of children, limit the role of the state in protecting children and youth from parental incapacity, and in providing appropriate social and legal structures to ensure their general welfare.

These issues are explored from an interdisciplinary perspective through an examination of the relationship of children and youth, family and state.  Topics to be covered include youth and children’s rights, state and parental responsibilities, adoption, child welfare, youth criminal justice, children and youth in immigration, mature minors and young adults, and the role of early interventions in supporting the thriving of children and youth.


Teaching Method

Seminar, with emphasis on critical engagement in discussions. Members of the legal and helping professions will be invited to participate. Students will lead discussions and will keynote their research in advance of their seminar presentation (a preliminary bibliography and summary are to be distributed at the preceding class).


60% of the grade is assigned to a paper, on an approved topic, of about 7500 words, 15% is assigned for developing discussion questions and leading discussion for one scheduled class, 15% is assigned for the presentation of research, and 10% for a short paper reflecting on the visit to the Youth Court.

Course Materials

Emphasis on reading, engagement with class discussion, and individual research.
BOOKS: The materials for this Course are required reading.