Law School opens new Detroit Center for Family Advocacy

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With a mightily stressed child foster care system, one-third of the state's foster kids, and fully half of the state's permanent court wards, Wayne County's Department of Human Services is about to get help from the Law School.

The Law School's new Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, which opened on July 6, is designed to help parents and extended families care for their own children, to shorten the stays of children who end up in public foster care, and to keep some children out of foster care entirely.

The three-year pilot program will serve the Osborn neighborhood on Detroit's Eastside, an area that carries one of Wayne County's highest rates of children being removed from their families.

The center will help families with two types of cases. The first are cases in which legal assistance can help a parent, guardian or extended family member provide a safe, stable home for a child whose family has been investigated and substantiated for possible abuse or neglect. The second are cases in which legal services to a potential permanent caregiver could help a child exit the foster care system completely. Altogether, organizers project the center will help 600 children during the pilot program, and it's been specially designed to be easily replicated.

Vivek Sankaran, clinical assistant professor of law, will direct the project and Donald Duquette, director of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, will coordinate the careful evaluation of the project. Both teach in Michigan Law's Child Advocacy Law Clinic, which was the first such clinic in the United States when Duquette founded it 30 years ago. Law students from the clinic, under faculty supervision and as part of their studies, will help manage the cases as well.

"This center represents an opportunity to help turn hundreds of lives around," Sankaran says. "Children are better off being raised by family rather than by the government. We hope to provide legal tools to empower family members to protect and care for their own children rather than depend upon government foster care."