Parens patriae means "parents of the country," and refers to the right of the state to take action against negligent or abusive parents or legal guardians and to act in the place of the parent for children or people who are legally adults but unable to take care of themselves, such as incapacitated adults. Due process of law is the requirement that the state provide all people with their legal rights; due process rights mean a person has the right to be heard in court before being sentenced. Juveniles accused of committing a crime have four basic rights: to be informed of their rights and of the charges against them; the privilege against self-incrimination; to be represented by legal counsel; and to confront their accuser and cross-examine witnesses. These rights come from the 1967 Supreme Court case In Re Gault. This case provided many — but not all — due process rights to juveniles. For example, juveniles do not have the right to a trial by jury.
The juvenile court system has been moving from a position of parens patriae to extending due process rights to juveniles. The unintended consequence of providing juveniles with greater due process rights is that juvenile cases are now more like adult criminal cases. Under a parens patriae system, prosecutors have to be fair but interested in the welfare of the juveniles. The judges in a parens patriae system often act like social workers and try to find solutions to help juveniles. They have more latitude to figure out courses of action that might help the juveniles. Under a due process system, however, prosecutors have to be fair but not necessarily interested. That means prosecutors try to convict juveniles of crimes in a more adversarial way than they do in the parens patriae system.