Kirsten L. Widner

Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Chapter Member: Tennessee SSN

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About Kirsten

Widner’s research is focused on democratic participation by non-voters, including those who are legally prevented from voting (e.g. children, noncitizen immigrants, and incarcerated people), as well those who face structure barriers to voting. For 7 years, she Widner worked as a public policy-focused lawyer working in the areas of child abuse and juvenile justice. In her advocacy work, she was a lobbyist on children’s issues in the Georgia state capitol and was instrumental in the passage of Georgia’s new juvenile code (adopted May 2013), as well as many other bills on topics such as teen sexting, domestic minor sex trafficking, shelters for runaway youth, and open adoption. Widner is a volunteer policy mentor for the Georgia Women’s Policy Institute, a program of the YWCA. Her legal expertise is primarily in children’s rights and family law.


Why We Need More Women of Color in Government

  • Beth Reingold
  • Kerry Haynie

School Readiness and Equal Opportunity Start at Birth

  • Richard F. Doner

In the News

Opinion: "We Can Act to Protect Ourselves Against Gun Violence ," Kirsten L. Widner (with Sarah Shalf), Newsweek, December 8, 2022.


"A Child’s Right to Counsel in Juvenile Court Proceedings," (with Melissa Carter), White Paper, 2008.
Argues in support of expanding the right of children to legal counsel in Georgia juvenile courts. Most of these changes were subsequently adopted.
"Improving Offender Accountability in CSEC Cases: Tools for Investigating and Prosecuting Adult Exploiters," (with Darlene Lynch and Kosha Tucker), Georgia’s Governor’s Office for Children and Families, 2012.

Provides a detailed overview of the federal and Georgia laws criminalizing the sexual exploitation of children, and provides detailed guidance for how prosecutors can build a victim-centered case.

"Reinstatement of Parental Rights: An Important Step toward Solving the Problem of Legal Orphans," (with Melissa Carter), White Paper, 2008.
Argues for the adoption of a new law to allow reinstatement of parental rights in certain circumstances after they have been involuntarily terminated. This law was subsequently adopted.
"Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in Georgia: Service Delivery and Legislative Recommendations for State and Local Policy Makers," (with Darlene Lynch), Barton Child and Law Policy Clinic, 2007.
Examines federal and state responses to the sex trafficking of children, and makes recommendations for policy reforms in Georgia. Most of the recommended reforms were subsequently adopted.
"In Defense of the Black/White Binary: Reclaiming a Tradition of Civil Rights Scholarship" (with Roy L. Brooks). Berkeley Journal of African-American Law & Policy 12, no. 1 (2010).

Argues that the rich traditional of civil rights scholarship by and about Black Americans retains more value than is often attributed to it by critical race theorists. Argues that understanding the particular experience of different groups is important to evaluating and prioritizing legal claims.

"Continuing the Evolution: Why California Should Amend Family Code Section 8616.5 to Allow Visitation in All Postadoption Contact Agreements" San Diego Law Review 44 (2007): 355.
Argues that California should allow voluntary post-adoption contact agreements in all adoptions. Recommended changes were subsequently adopted.