Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, October 2, 2009

Law School receives $5 million grant to improve child welfare

A $5 million federal grant will enable a Law School program to assess and improve the current practices of child representation across the nation.

The U.S. Children’s Bureau of Health and Human Services awarded the Law School with a five-year grant to serve as the National Quality Improvement Center (QIC) on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System.

The Program on Children and the Law, directed by clinical professor Don Duquette, will conduct the project.

“One barrier to success in child welfare is the lack of trained and effective legal representatives who can advocate for the child’s interests,” he says.

Children who enter foster care or who are at risk of entering foster care suffer greatly from not having a stable, permanent and caring family, Duquette says. Sometimes children are removed from their homes unnecessarily or remain out of their parents’ custody for longer than necessary. Other times children are not fully protected from physical harm and neglect but are left in harmful situations rather than being removed to a place of safety.

Although there is a growing consensus that children in child welfare cases should have lawyers, there continues to be debate over the duties of those lawyers — and the manner or extent to which they should be assisted by non-lawyers.

In the first year, the center will identify the best practices nationwide in child advocacy and identify promising models of child representation. In subsequent years, QIC will develop and fund research and demonstration projects intended to test the most promising models of delivering child advocacy services.

QIC will provide funds to promote the American Bar Association’s Approved Certification of Lawyers as specialists in child welfare law, offered since 2005 by the National Association of Counsel for Children.

Duquette will collaborate with law professors Frank Vandervort and Vivek Sankaran. Other partners include Planning and Learning Technologies of Arlington, Va., which will oversee the assessment and evaluation projects; American Bar Foundation of Chicago; National Association of Counsel for Children; and KidsVoice of Pittsburgh.