Do you want evidence of the “Michigan Difference”? You don’t need to look any further than the Genesee County Circuit Court, where last week two U-M law students saved a 6-year-old from being placed with strangers in foster care.
Young Kathy* has had a tough road. After her mother lost custody of her because of child abuse and neglect, the Department of Human Services (DHS) placed Kathy with a relative who now isn’t able to care for her. Even though the child’s father wanted her to live with him in Mississippi, DHS believed it had to follow an antiquated, bureaucratic process called the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC)—which meant that it could take months, maybe even more than a year, to approve the cross-state transition process. In the meantime, and with no other family member to care for her, DHS said, Kathy would have to live in foster care with strangers.
So on Wednesday, November 23, U-M students Beth Kurtz and Helen No, under the supervision of clinical law professor Vivek Sankaran, argued that Kathy should be placed immediately with her loving and able dad. The judge agreed, and ordered that the daughter be returned to her father in Mississippi right away.
“I told my students to treasure the moment and to think about the significance of what they accomplished for this little child. I couldn’t be prouder of their work,” Vivek reported in a Facebook status update shortly after the hearing.
Michigan’s Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC) is one of the oldest and most respected programs of its kind in the country. Founding faculty member Don Duquette, his colleagues and their students share a passionate dedication to children’s welfare and the improvement of the system designed to protect children. Their work often doesn’t get much of a spotlight.
But quietly, for more than 30 years and again last Wednesday, the clinic has created life-changing impact in the lives of many vulnerable kids—one case at a time.
Vivek has established the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which focuses on similar work taking place in the city of Detroit. The Center provides legal advocacy and social work services to low-income families to prevent the unnecessary placement and prolonged stay of children in foster care. You can watch a video about the Center’s groundbreaking activities here.
*Note: The child’s name has been changed to preserve confidentiality.
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