The COVID-19 pandemic prompted extraordinary state action to protect American children. Acting in its longstanding role as parens patriae, the state stepped in to protect children and their families from the ravages of the pandemic as well as from the dramatic upheaval it precipitated. This Article will evaluate the state’s pandemic response vis-à-vis children and their families, mining the experience for lessons learned and possible ways forward. Specifically, this project will argue that the state’s pandemic response represented a departure from the state’s conventional approach to parens patriae. Conventional practice prior to the pandemic was characterized by a state model of parens patriae that was largely reactive and residual, and was exercised in ways that particularly disadvantaged children of color and low-income children. By contrast, the model of parens patriae actualized in response to the pandemic was proactive, preventative, and responsible. Instances of child abuse dropped or held steady, the incidence of youth offending did not increase, and child poverty levels reached historic lows. At the same time, many children and their parents managed to grow closer and spend more time together during the pandemic. Ultimately, this Article argues that this new approach to parens patriae is the best path forward to protect children and their families from harm and promote child well-being.

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