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April 02, 2024

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

WASHINGTON, April 2, 2024 — Lawyers, judges, social workers and professionals with lived experience connected to youth and family legal systems will explore developments in the  law during two conferences hosted by the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law starting on April 9.

National Conference on Access to Justice, April 9-10National Conference on Parent Representation, April 11-12

Ritz Carlton Tysons Corner
1700 Tysons Blvd.
Tysons Corner, VA

On Tuesday, April 9, at 9 a.m. EDT, the Mark Hardin Award for Child Welfare Legal Scholarship and Systems Change will be presented to Theo Liebmann, clinical professor of law and director of the Youth Advocacy Clinic and executive director of the Monroe H. Freedman Institute for the Study of Legal Ethics at the Maurice A. Deane School of Law at Hofstra University in New York, and to Kristen Weber, senior director of child welfare at the National Center for Youth Law.

Immediately following, Angela Tucker, author of “‘You Should Be Grateful’: Stories of Race, Identity & Transracial Adoption,” filmmaker and founder of Adoptee Mentoring Society, will introduce April Lee, director of Client Voice at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, who will deliver the opening plenary on “It’s All About Family.”

On April 10 at 12:30 p.m., Rebecca Jones Gaston, commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, will deliver the lunch plenary on “Access to Justice for Children, Parents and Families.”

The National Parent Representation Conference will open on Thursday, April 11, at 9 a.m., with an opening plenary by Corey Best, founder and community curator of Mining for Gold, Joyce McMillan, executive director of JMAC for Families and a parent advocate with lived expertise and Martin Guggenheim, professor at New York University School of Law.

On April 12 at noon, the lunch plenary will feature the director and producer of the Netflix documentary “Take Care of Maya,” as well as lawyers who participated in the civil lawsuit decided in November 2023. The film portrays the legal barriers within the child welfare system when a medical team and hospital accuse a parent of medical child abuse. A jury found in favor of the family in their lawsuit against the hospital and awarded $261 million in compensatory and punitive damages.

Conference highlights include:

“How Do I Talk About This? Strategies and Techniques for Discussing Mental Health Services with Youth Clients” — Foster youth struggle with their mental health and it is challenging for advocates to address this in an effective and compassionate way. In many cases, mental health stability is a key component in supporting family integrity. It is important for mental health to be addressed in a diverse and culturally sensitive manner. A panel of experts will offer techniques on how to include a former foster youth’s experience in your client discussions.
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.

“Working Across Borders to Keep Families Together: Understanding the Law and Supports Available for Migrant Parents and Their Children” — This workshop will focus on identifying legal and social service resources that support family unification in cases that involve cross-border separation. The session will assist agency, parent and child legal teams when handling such cases on behalf of children within the child welfare system or their parents who reside out of the country.
Tuesday, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.

“Recovering Money and Assets for Youth in Care” — This session will explore how to advocate for clients in administrative hearings and circuit court venues to recover money and assets for youth in care. These financial claims include, but are not limited to, board payments, emancipation funds, independent living programs, jail stipends, misspent SSI funds, employment incentive funds and youth in college funds. The session will address instances of public agencies improperly withholding funds as well as situations where a young person has been financially exploited by a relative, family friend or foster parent. Attendees will learn how to duplicate strategies from Cook County in other jurisdictions across the country.
Tuesday, 2-3:30 p.m.

“Navigating the Nuances: Tackling Ongoing ICWA Avoidance after Brackeen — This session will identify examples of ongoing Indian Child Welfare Act avoidance and will call on judges, as well as attorneys for agencies, parents and children, to address such issues directly in practice. Examples of ICWA avoidance that will be identified include inadequate services, delayed notice to tribes, minimal efforts around family finding and rushed probate guardianships. By analyzing case law, engaging in jurisprudential dialogues around ICWA and interactive discussions, the workshop seeks to cultivate a dialogue on potential solutions and policy recommendations for ensuring correct ICWA implementation. The goal is to enhance legal practitioners’ understanding, equipping them with pragmatic strategies to tackle ICWA avoidance, thus advancing justice and equity in child welfare cases.
Tuesday, 3:45-5:15 p.m.

“We Are in This Together: Co-Creating Solutions to Mitigate Racial Bias and Racism in Mandated Reporting” — Stop overreporting Our People (STOP) is a multi-discipline approach to mitigating racism and racial bias in the overreporting of Black and Indigenous families to child protection by medical professionals. The panel will discuss lessons learned from our work. Topics will include supporting the process of co-creation across a multi-disciplinary team (medical, legal, agency, public health); redefining what it means to have lived experience; and identifying themes across decision points ranging from a medical provider’s concern to placement into foster care. They will also address challenges, such as the lack of understanding of other stakeholder roles in the reporting process and a persistent unwillingness to identify and acknowledge the harm overreporting causes for Black and Indigenous families.
Tuesday, 3:45-5:15 p.m.

“Partnering to Support Immigrant Families Involved in the Child Welfare System” — This session will introduce several new resources available to attorneys for children, parents and agencies working with non-citizen children and parents involved in the child welfare system. After framing the importance of high-quality legal representation in both areas of law, presenters will highlight a standardized referral tool we have developed for child welfare attorneys to identify non-citizen children and parent clients and make referrals to immigration attorneys. We will offer interview considerations and sample scripts for attorneys to elicit relevant information from their clients, using culturally humble and trauma-informed practices. We also will introduce a new Community of Practice for attorneys who are involved in this intersection of immigration and child welfare law, identify useful focus areas and invite participants to join that network.
Wednesday, 10:30 a.m.-Noon

“Dads and Domestic Violence: Let’s Get This Right” — When the system mischaracterizes the true dynamics of intimate partner violence, there are steps attorneys can take to accurately identify what is occurring in abusive relationships. This panel will explore how child welfare investigators often misidentify the true dynamics of intimate partner violence and what advocates can do to counteract stereotyping, wrongful allegations and improper treatment. This session will preview best practices in batterer intervention programs that take a more nuanced view of relationships and deliver effective techniques for true accountability across genders. The time has come to push back against the unprecedented rate at which the United States permanently severs family ties – a practice that can be challenged morally and legally using historical and empirical information.
Thursday, 12:45-2 p.m.

“Strange Bedfellows? A Bipartisan Approach to Reimagining the Child Welfare System” — Join us as we highlight how the political left and right can work together across the country to advance legislative change aimed at ending the harm of the child welfare system. Receive practical strategies for building successful bipartisan coalitions and enacting legislation. This panel will focus on how advocates can engage state and federal elected officials to enact policy changes aimed at ending the harm of the child welfare system. Panelists will include advocates with success in passing legislation and raising awareness about the need for legislative change in areas that cause harm and perpetuate racial injustice, including overbroad definitions of neglect, mandated reporting and the need for Family Miranda.
Thursday, 4-5:30 p.m.

For media credentialing, please contact Priscilla Totten at [email protected].

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