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Girlhood Interrupted: The Erasure of Black Girls’ Childhood

Children occupy a unique position in our public systems. Once treated as miniature adults, our perception of young people’s innocence and ongoing development has led, over time, to granting children leniency when determining the consequences of their behavior. The special legal status bestowed on youth, in particular, is based on a well-established understanding of children’s social and psychological development — that they should be held less responsible and culpable for their actions, and that they are capable, through the ongoing developmental process, of rehabilitation. These foundational legal and moral principles protect children from criminalization and extend safeguards that shield them from the harsh penalties levied on adults. To date, limited quantitative research has assessed the existence of adultification for Black girls — that is, the extent to which race and gender, taken together, influence our perception of Black girls as less innocent and more adult-like than their white peers.