Areas of Expertise
Children are increasingly implicated in political debates and policy issues. They are invoked by Republicans trying to balance the budget, Democrats hoping to save social programs, businesses opposing government regulations, labor unions and women’s groups advocating those same regulations, and interest groups championing everything from tax cuts to greater government spending. Children themselves, of course, are silent in these debates. We hear from individual children in unusual circumstances–we know that Gregory Kingsley wanted to “divorce” his mother, and that Kimberly Mays is confused about her parentage. But children as a class do not participate in politics. They do not have the right to vote, nor do we accord them the rational capacity to express their own interests. Consequently, children rely on adults not only to advance their interests but also to decide what those interests are–to define and interpret them, to rank their importance, and to determine how and in what ways they should be connected with the interests of adults. We know surprisingly little about the representation of children even though it is replete with tantalizing and complex questions. What kinds of groups and organizations claim to act as children’s advocates, and how do their organizational and professional biases shape the way in which they understand children’s interests? On what grounds do such organizations legitimate their claims to speak on behalf of children? To what extent and in what ways do ideas, such as theories about child development, expert findings, and common beliefs, inform or constrain arguments about children’s interests? When are parents active, and how do their views of children’s needs mesh with ideas of those who rest their arguments not on their status as caregivers but on professional knowledge, experience, or ideology? How do we come to decide the interests of a group when that group cannot speak for itself? This book addresses these questions, first by examining the kinds of issues that are designated as children’s issues and then by analyzing the definition and advocacy of children’s interests in four main policy areas–AFDC, child welfare, health, and education.
Program in Women’s and Gender Studies