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U-M to develop nation's first child welfare attorney certification program



C
ourt outcomes for children in abuse and neglect cases are likely to improve through a new federally funded certification program to assist child welfare lawyers.

The Law School and National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) will start the pilot program through a three-year, $600,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Children's Bureau.

By improving the level of law practice, children in abuse and neglect proceedings have a better chance at living in safer environments, says Donald N. Duquette, a clinical professor in the Law School's Child Advocacy Law Clinic and project co-director.

The pilot will operate at Denver-based NACC, while certification examination sites tentatively have been identified as Michigan, Colorado, New Mexico and the District of Columbia. Accreditation, which would be classified as "juvenile law child welfare," could come from the American Bar Association by 2004.

Lawyer participation is voluntary, but Duquette says certification incentives range from raising one's status and compensation to seeking non-economic rewards to be better prepared to handle cases. Certification criteria will include minimum years in the practice, peer review, minimum hours of continuing education and passing a written exam.

The exam, which will include questions about federal and state laws, as well as non-law topics such as child development, dynamics of child abuse, and treatment for children and neglectful parentswill be offered in spring 2004.

Approximately three million children are reported abused and neglected each year, and many of the cases go into the court system. Research indicates that children are not well-served in court, due in part to the failure to place competent and well-trained attorneys in cases representing the child, parent and child welfare agency. To correct this problem, the new program will measure competence and will certify representatives to the courts and other employers of child welfare legal services.

"Quality legal representation is essential to obtaining good outcomes," says Marvin Ventrell, NACC executive director and project co-director. "A process dependent on individual advocacy for information will not produce good outcomes for individuals who lack skilled independent legal counsel.

"While this is true for adults in our legal system, it is even more important for children, who are least able to speak for themselves."

"This is a very exciting program," Duquette says. "It will do no less than transform this entire area of law and result in a great improvement in the quality of justice for children."

For additional information about NACC, a non-profit child advocacy organization, call (888) 828-NACC or visit http://www.NACCchildlaw.org. Information about the Law School and the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, which began in 1976, can be found at http://www.law.umich.edu.

 

 

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