Children's Equality: The Centrality of Race, Gender, and Class

23 Pages Posted: 2 Mar 2020 Last revised: 9 Mar 2020

See all articles by Nancy E. Dowd

Nancy E. Dowd

University of Florida Levin College of Law

Date Written: 2020


Hierarchies among children dramatically impact their development. Beginning before birth, and continuing during their progression to adulthood from birth to age 18, structural and cultural barriers separate and subordinate some children, while they privilege others. The hierarchies replicate patterns of inequality along familiar lines, particularly those of race, gender, and class, and the intersections of those identities. These barriers, and co-occurring support of privilege for other children, emanate from policies, practices, and structures of the state, including education, health, policing, and juvenile justice.

Reimagining Equality: A New Deal for Children of Color takes on the task of confronting and addressing these hierarchies, as well as articulating a comprehensive strategy for change to achieve equality, equity, and dignity for all children. In this Essay, I outline the core components of the book as a backdrop and focal point for dialogue and discussion on children and poverty in this issue of the Fordham Urban Law Journal. I also present questions that remain in order to achieve children’s equality.

Part I of the book synthesizes the interdisciplinary research on the life course of African American boys from birth to adulthood as a means to concretely examine the creation of hierarchies among children. Black boys are presented as exemplars, not as a prioritized group. Their life patterns have been extensively examined, often to reinforce a stereotype of deviance, but this research nevertheless clearly exposes the making of hierarchy based on race, gender, and class.

Part II of the book uses the pattern of Black boys to explore the impact of subordination on development, and the making of inequality. Developmental analysis in law and other disciplines commonly centers around a neutral child, ignoring the impact and pattern of hierarchies among children. This Part argues developmental analysis — the use of developmental research in law — must instead consciously focus on the actual developmental path of children of color in order to be a vehicle for equality. Introducing the theoretical contributions of Margaret Beale Spencer and Cynthia García Coll, this Part constructs a model of developmental equality. Developmental equality centers the goal of equality on the lived experiences of children of color upon whom heavy additional burdens have been imposed. Burdens and barriers to maximizing the development of all children must be removed to achieve children’s equality.

With this reimagined definition of equality in mind, Part III of the book explores strategic alternatives. These include potential statutory and constitutional litigation strategies, but most expansively, a legislative strategy — A New Deal for Children. Borrowing from the tradition of prior expansive legislative programs enacted in response to the need for dramatic change and problem solving, such as the 1930s New Deal, the post-World War II G.I. Bill, and the Great Society programs of the 1960s, a New Deal for Children argues for a comprehensive approach of intersecting programs to create the necessary supports for children. At its core, the New Deal for Children would ensure equality, equity, and dignity, and change children’s hierarchies to children’s opportunities. Both visionary and pragmatic, the New Deal for Children is grounded in systems and policies in place elsewhere in the world, as well as localized models of comprehensive, intersecting programs in place in the United States.

Finally, the Essay concludes with a series of questions that remain to be explored, discussed, and debated to achieve the goal of equality among children. Equality has eluded America’s children for generations because their ability to develop has been stymied, blocked, and undermined. The process to challenge that reality and implement real change raises complex, but not insurmountable, issues.

Suggested Citation

Dowd, Nancy Elizabeth, Children's Equality: The Centrality of Race, Gender, and Class (2020). 47 Fordham Urban Law Journal 231, University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 20-5, Available at SSRN: or

Nancy Elizabeth Dowd (Contact Author)

University of Florida Levin College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 117625
Gainesville, FL 32611-7625
United States
352-273-0930 (Phone)
352-392-3005 (Fax)


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