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March 29, 2022

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

WASHINGTON, March 29, 2022 — 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 5. The National Conference on Access to Justice for Children and Families includes two tracks: the impact and implications of COVID-19 for children and families, and racial equity in child welfare cases. The National Conference on Parent Representation includes special emphasis on legal professionals sharing power with people with lived experience in the child welfare system. 

What:   National Conference on Access to Justice for Children and Families, April 5-6
 National Conference on Parent Representation, April 7-8

Where:  Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner
                   1700 Tysons Blvd.
                   Tysons Corner, VA 22102

Kimberly Waller, associate commissioner for the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will offer introductory remarks on Tuesday, April 5, at 9 a.m.

After that, a video will be shown of Judge Ernestine Gray (retired), Orleans Parish, Louisiana, receiving the center’s Mark Hardin Award for Child Welfare Legal Scholarship and Systems Change.

Then Adrian McLemore, policy analyst, national strategic consultant, program officer and child welfare expert, will give the opening plenary on “What do Families Look Like at Their Best?”

The National Parent Representation Conference will open on Thursday, April 7, at 9 a.m., with a talk by Andrea Elliott, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of “Invisible Child: Poverty, Survival & Hope in an American City.” Following Elliott, NYU School of Law Professor Martin Guggenheim will receive the second Mark Hardin Award for Child Welfare Legal Scholarship and Systems Change.

Conference highlights include:

“Keeping Families Together: Improving Outcomes for Relative Caregivers” —Understanding that racial disparity and disproportionality are prevalent in today’s child welfare system, this workshop will focus on the importance of relative placement and the need to address barriers that cause racial disparity in relative placements and negatively affect child welfare outcomes for children of color. The benefits of relative placement to a child’s education, mental health and permanency, and the roadblocks that many relatives face in getting children placed in their care — especially those with a criminal history — will be discussed.
Tuesday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

“Away From Home: Eliminating the Unnecessary Use of Institutions in Foster Care and Placing Foster Youth with Their Soul Family” — In 2021, Think of Us published “Away from Home: Youth Experiences of Institutional Placements in Foster Care,” a groundbreaking report that documented the experiences and mental models of foster youth who had recently been institutionalized in foster care and made the bold case for eliminating the unnecessary use of institutions in care. This program will explore what young people are saying about institutions, and how to replace them by connecting foster youth with their soul family as well as strategies for focusing on both legal and relational permanency for all youth in care.
Tuesday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

“Truth, Healing and Reconciliation Community Forums” — A Sicangu Lakota adoptee from the Rosebud Reservation, South Dakota, will speak about Truth Healing Reconciliation Community Forums that bring together First Nations adoptees/fostered individuals and their families and professionals to discuss post-adoption issues and identify strategies to prevent the removal of First Nations children.
Tuesday 12:30-1:30 p.m.

“From Indian Child Welfare to Indian Child Warfare: The Potential Implications of Haaland v. Brackeen— This lunch plenary will provide an overview of the petitions challenging the Indian Child Welfare Act in the Brack­een case, which recently received a grant of certiorari by the Supreme Court of the United States. It will also address the potential ramifications for American Indians if the act is ruled unconstitutional and the importance of upholding ICWA to ensure children maintain connections to their families, culture and community when they become involved in the child welfare system.
Tuesday 12:30-1:30 p.m.

“Engaging Those with Lived Experience as Partners and Collaborators” Lived experience experts will guide participants on what effective Lived Experience Integration looks like. They will highlight good, bad and misguided efforts as well as lessons learned from those experiences. The session will include recommendations for how lawyers and advocates can partner to move up the “ladder of participation” and practice meaningful engagement.
Tuesday, 2-3:30 p.m.

“Improving Educational Outcomes for Foster Children with Disabilities: What Dependency Attorneys Need to Know About Special Education” — Federal special education law guarantees children with disabilities a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment with individually designed special education instruction, related services and supports. However, this right is illusory for many foster youth with disabilities — identified or unidentified — that impact their ability to make educational progress. This session will examine special education issues impacting children with disabilities, including disproportionate discipline, procedural protections and compensatory services, especially in the wake of the pandemic.
Tuesday, 2-3:30 p.m.

Working with Immigrant Families Involved in the Child Welfare System” — This session will offer guidance on protecting the due process rights of parents and children with unauthorized immigration status, with a focus on dependency cases involving a parent who is detained, deported or living outside the United States. A tool kit designed to provide child welfare practitioners in Arizona information on how best to address cases involving transnational families will be discussed, as well as options for parents in Immigration and Customs Enforcement custody, agency approaches to working with family across borders, relevant judicial considerations and other avenues to effectively engage immigrant or transnational families.
Tuesday, 3:45-5:15 p.m.

“Creating a Trauma Informed and Inclusive Courtroom” — Trauma and discrimination are pervasive in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. Judges and lawyers often play a pivotal role in either exacerbating or abating a child or family’s trauma, often with little awareness of the repercussions that certain words or actions have. This workshop will address the impact of trauma on brains and behavior, explore how the pandemic and racial discrimination have created additional layers of stress and barriers for many families, and provide specific tools to create a trauma-responsive and equitable courtroom.
Wednesday, 8:45-10:15 a.m.

“Successful School Reintegration Following Time in a Congregate Care Facility: Disrupting the School-to-Prison Pipeline” — A multidisciplinary team will present their research on obstacles faced by students upon reentry into public schools from congregate care settings. Participants will be led through an interactive session that encourages them to identify barriers in the reintegration process and learn from promising practices that may mitigate educational harm to students placed in congregate care.
Wednesday, 8:45-10:15 a.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. All meeting attendees are required to provide proof of vaccination or proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the start of the meeting. For media credentialing and to receive further COVID-related instructions, please contact Priscilla Totten at [email protected].


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