Parens Patriae in Juvenile Justice: Definition & Doctrine

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 0:21 Doctrine
  • 1:08 Example
  • 1:36 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Jessica Schubert

Jessica is a practicing attorney and has taught law and has a J.D. and LL.M.

Learn what constitutes the doctrine of 'parens patriae' in juvenile justice. In addition, review the definition of the doctrine, as well as an example. Test your understanding with a short quiz when you are through.


Parens patriae is Latin for 'parent of his or her country.' In the juvenile justice legal system, parens patriae is a doctrine that allows the state to step in and serve as a guardian for children, the mentally ill, the incompetent, the elderly, or disabled persons who are unable to care for themselves.


The doctrine of parens patriae frequently arises in the juvenile justice system where children are taken away from parents due to abuse or neglect. Typically, the state will serve as a guardian for the children, usually by placing them in a group home or with foster parents. The types of issues where the parens patriae doctrine plays a role includes juvenile detention matters, neglect issues, custodial issues, medical matters, and child support matters. Moreover, the doctrine allows the state to step in and help individuals protect themselves when they are unable to do so for themselves. Additionally, the doctrine is limited in nature; in other words, once a caregiver or parent can demonstrate that they can effectively care for the child or other individual, the parens patriae doctrine is no longer applicable.

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