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A Call To New Child Welfare Directors

This past Tuesday, citizens across the country headed to the polls. In 36 states, people elected governors, and in many chose new leaders.  Now, new governors will likely select new directors to lead state child welfare agencies.

I previously wrote a post about transforming our child protection system into a child welfare system. Changes in leadership will give us an opportunity to inch closer to such a transformation. But how can a new child welfare director make that happen? How can a director change the culture of child welfare?

Here is my call to new agency directors.

Be transparent about the complicated history that child welfare agencies have had with the families they seek to serve, and acknowledge the valid reasons why so many people distrust these agencies. Historically speaking, agencies have wrongfully taken children from certain communities, at times for the specific reason of divorcing children from their community. Unsurprisingly, even today, many families regard child w…

It's Time To Follow The Law And Take Reasonable Efforts Seriously

It’s Time to Follow the Law and Take Reasonable Efforts Seriously
David Kelly Special Assistant to the Associate Commissioner of the Children’s Bureau
A caseworker driving a child four hours--one way-- to visit his mother on a weekly basis.The child welfare agency putting a family up in a hotel for two days and hiring a professional cleaning service to return a home to a habitable condition.A children’s attorney refusing to give up on finding a family connection for a severely disabled young man, even though he requires a residential treatment setting.A judge understanding the treatment and recovery process and insisting a parent receive the support they need.These are all solid examples of reasonable efforts to prevent removal or finalize a permanency plan recently provided by an audience of child welfare legal professionals.In total, a dozen or so strong responses to the straightforward question, what are the best examples of reasonable efforts that you have seen made?The question …

Can We Please Fix The Interstate Compact On The Placement Of Children?

"Code Talk"

“CODE TALK”
After practicing for five years as a parent attorney, I have become well versed in the language of child welfare. What is this language? It is basically an incomprehensible set of acronyms or phrases that have the effect of being both exclusionary and sterilizing in the courtroom. It is language that everyone in the courtroom understands, except the parents and the children, the people for whom the language is most relevant. There is no better way to have a parent zone out than to use language that would require a law degree to understand. For example, we routinely refer or allude to ASFA, CAPTA, reasonable efforts, MNR, PPH, probable cause, dependency, contrary to the welfare, APPLA, WTLP, permanency plan, action plan, diligent search, individual level outcomes, family level outcomes, EPAC, and lastly and most notably, TPR.
This is language that disrespects parents and promotes disengagement from their cases. If they don’t understand what everyone is talking about, what i…

Voices and the Voiceless

The Washington Supreme Court recently declined to recognize a categorical right for children to have attorneys appointed in dependency cases. Many in the child advocacy community are viewing the decision as a loss.But the Court’s decision is correct for many reasons, including reasons not stated in the opinion itself.

The debate over the right to attorneys for children has often been described, and was described in this case, as a question of giving “voice” to the “voiceless.” That characterization obscures the fact that many children, by virtue of their age, simply can’t communicate. 

Lawyers should be troubled by the notion that we can “represent” the position of a pre-verbal infant child. Lawyering is, foremost, an exercise in listening. Over the years, listening to clients has taught me that I can never predict what they will say, what position they will take, or which way a dependency case will go. My clients have proved my assumptions wrong enough times to humble me. It is with t…