Thursday, June 19, 2014

Clare Huntington's "Failure to Flourish"

Clare Huntington is a professor at Fordham Law School. Her extensive legal experience includes clerking on the U.S. Supreme Court and working for the U.S. Justice Department. In addition to international development work in India and Senegal, Huntington was a social worker in New York City’s foster care system.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Failure to Flourish: How Law Undermines Family Relationships, and reported the following:
I love this test because page 99 captures the heart of my book. It comes in the middle of the chapter that describes, well, um, how the law undermines family relationships. Page 99 contains several examples, including the following:
Single-family zoning … makes it harder for extended families to live together. Partly in response to the recent recession but also reflecting changing values and the demands on families, homes increasingly include aging parents and the so-called boomerang generation, young adults who have finished college but are living at home again.…

[T]o house these multiple generations, families often want different spaces, with separate cooking facilities or even a separate building, located next to the main house, but single-family zoning rules make this difficult. Developers have to contend with zoning boards that are unwilling to approve variances that would allow the construction of homes that meet the needs of multigenerational families.
This example illustrates the book’s primary contribution to the debate about families and instability—the role of the law. It is well known that a child’s chances in life are affected by experiences in the first few years of life. It is also well known that families across the income spectrum are struggling to provide children with the relationships they need during these crucial years. From domestic violence and poverty to unemployment and family breakdowns, the state of the American family is not good.

But what is less known is that the law is part of the problem. Too often, instead of helping strengthen families, our legal system undercuts family relationships, making it harder for parents to provide children with the relationships necessary for healthy child development.

Page 99 also showcases my writing style. The book uses lots of specific examples and stories to bring theory to life, ranging from Aristotle to the work of a World War II nutritionist.

After page 99, I offer a new vision for an emotionally intelligent family law, arguing that we must re-orient the legal system to encourage healthy family relationships. This does not mean an all-encompassing welfare state, but rather key supports and interventions at critical stages. The law can and should help young adults delay childbearing, encourage long-term commitment between parents, and support parents in their key work nurturing children in the early years of life. This won’t be easy, and there are plenty of political flashpoints, but it is essential work.
Learn more about Failure to Flourish at the Oxford University Press website and Clare Huntington’s website.

--Marshal Zeringue