chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.
April 02, 2019

Lawyers, judges, nonprofit leaders address access to justice for children, families at ABA conferences

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2019 — Lawyers, judges, social workers and advocates will explore developments in the children’s law field during two conferences hosted by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law starting on April 9. Among the topics covered will be family separation at the border, parental incarceration, implicit bias against transgender youth, cultural identity in foster care and more.

National Conference on Access to Justice for Children and Families, April 9-10
National Conference on Parent Representation, April 11-12          

Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner
1700 Tysons Blvd.
Tysons Corner, Va. 22102

Jerry Milner, associate commissioner at the Children’s Bureau and the acting commissioner for the Administration for Children and Families, will offer introductory remarks on Tuesday, April 9, at 9 a.m. Sherry Lachman, founder and executive director of Foster America, will speak at the opening plenary on Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.

Aisha McWeay, chief executive officer of Still She Rises, will speak at the conference plenary on Wednesday, April 10, at 12:30 p.m.

In addition, on Wednesday at noon, William “Bill” Grimm, attorney and senior director of strategic advocacy and child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law, will receive the Center of Children and the Law’s Mark Hardin Award in recognition of his 40-year career improving the lives of children in foster care across the United States.

The National Parent Representation Conference will open on Thursday, April 11, at 9 a.m., with a talk by Martin Guggenheim, professor of clinical law at New York University School of Law. He will be followed by Khiara Bridges, professor at Boston University School of Law; and Dinah Ortiz-Adames of the Bronx Defenders.

Conference highlights include:

“Religious and Sexual Orientation Exclusions in Foster Care” — In 2018, several high-profile lawsuits and pieces of state and federal legislation addressed religious and sexual orientation exclusions in the child welfare system that affect public and private agencies, foster parents, children and families. This session will provide an opportunity to hear from two different viewpoints about the arguments and implications underlying this national debate.

Tuesday, 10:30 a.m.-noon

“Impact of Parental Incarceration on Families” — More than 5 million children have had a parent who lived with them go to jail. Throughout the four days, experts will discuss the psychological trauma these children face and suggest what can be done to help, including the use of child impact statements at sentencing. Workshops will also focus on the intersection of the child welfare and criminal justice systems, including ways to incorporate prison and probation departments into the conversation to improve outcomes for children of incarcerated parents.

Tuesday, 1:30-3 p.m.; parental incarceration is also addressed at the Wednesday lunch plenary; and at programs on Thursday, 1:45-3:15 p.m.; Friday, 8:30-11 a.m. and 3-4:30 p.m.

“Focus on Substance Use, Reasonable Efforts and Harm Reduction in the Face of the Opioid Crisis” Throughout the Parent Representation Conference, there will be several sessions focused on improving representation for parents who use substances.

Thursday, 1:45-3:15 p.m.; substance use is also addressed at programs on Friday, 10:15-11:45 a.m.; the lunch plenary and 1:15-2:45 p.m.

“Cultural Identity in Foster Care” — This workshop will highlight the preliminary findings of the first foster youth cultural identity and access survey and its impact on social wellbeing. The audience will walk away with knowledge about research, laws and best practices regarding the importance of cultural identity for children in foster care.

Tuesday, 3:30-5 p.m.

“Best Practices and Effective Advocacy to Overcome Implicit Biases Against Transgender Youth” — This session will consider how implicit biases negatively affect transgender youth and assess the significance of timely access to appropriate medical and mental health services. We will also address common terms that transgender youth may use, basic medical management practices for transgender youth, and best practices to support them.

Wednesday, 10:15-11:45 a.m.

Conducting Trauma-Informed Interviews of Children” — Children involved in child welfare or immigration proceedings are not only likely to be in an ongoing traumatic experience but also to have been previously exposed to traumatic events and adverse experiences. As clients, these children are experiencing intense psychological distress that may manifest during interviews or discussions focused specifically on their separation, removal or immigration experiences. This session is intended to prepare lawyers to conduct interviews that maximize the utility of the information obtained and minimize the risk of unintended negative consequences. It will provide participants with resources and training on best practices for interviewing trauma-exposed children.

Wednesday, 10:15-11:45 a.m.

“Spotlight on Immigration: Family Separation at the Border and the U.S. Child Welfare System – Completely Distinct or Inextricably Intertwined?” — In 2018, an Executive Branch policy of separating children and parents at the southern border introduced new language and questions into the national child welfare dialogue. This session will examine connections between family separation at the border and child welfare law. Attendees will come away with information about clear lines of distinction but also details about how the two areas of law connect and why federal challenges are helping to establish precedent on such topics as children and parents’ right to family, procedural and substantive due process protections in child welfare and harm incurred from the trauma of separation.

Wednesday, 1:30-3 p.m.

“Family Poverty is Not Neglect: Exploring the Persistent Mislabeling and the Steps Family Defenders Can Take to End It” — The child welfare system targets families in poverty, treating their lack of resources as neglect and often worsening family poverty. The panel will discuss national and state policies, case law, litigation and legislative developments to address this endemic child welfare system issue and punitive practice applied to poor families.

Thursday, 1:45-3:15 p.m.

“The New Jane Crow vs. The New Jim Crow” — Panelists will suggest concrete actions to take in the context of advocacy for parents to challenge the disproportionate impact of child protective intervention and foster care placement on families of color, immigrant families, parents with disabilities and families living in poverty.

Friday, 3-4:30 p.m.


The complete agendas for the conferences and an updated list of speakers can be found here.

This event is free and open to members of the press. For media credentialing, please contact Priscilla Totten at [email protected].


With more than 400,000 members, the American Bar Association is one of the largest voluntary professional membership organizations in the world. As the national voice of the legal profession, the ABA works to improve the administration of justice, promotes programs that assist lawyers and judges in their work, accredits law schools, provides continuing legal education, and works to build public understanding around the world of the importance of the rule of law. View our privacy statement online. Follow the latest ABA news at and on Twitter @ABANews