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Revolutionary Changes to Child Welfare Start with the Attorneys

Questioning the Status Quo

Stacey Obrecht, President of Public Knowledge® (PK), and David Kelly, Director of Family Integrity and Justice Works (FIJW) at PK, recently appeared on The Children’s Law Podcast hosted by Angela Orkin from True North Child Advocates.

The Starting Point: Early Intervention is Key

Children’s attorneys are aware of how traumatic family separation is. As the most powerful voice within the court and child welfare agencies, it’s up to the attorney to be asking the right questions when they enter the case in the pre-removal stage.

“The key is, is there a safety concern that means the child cannot be in the home? If there isn’t, they should be there. If there’s a way to protect around that safety and keep them in the home, they need to be there. We’ve seen in the data across the entire country in most states it’s not unique to have those short stays, those kids that are there [foster care] for 30 days or less.”

Stacey Obrecht, Public Knowledge® President

As an attorney, it’s up to you to fight for your client: advocate for reunification as soon as possible.

Culture Change Begins at the Local Level

Keeping children at home where they belong is a radical culture shift that begins at the local level. According to Stacey, it starts with cultivating a shared vision and creating what it looks like with members of your community,

“There’s a way to come about it in a strength-based approach. A way of saying ‘I’m seeing this, are you seeing this, can we solve it together?”

Starting at the local level is most appropriate due to the shared experiences and values, David explained.  

Disrupting the System

The best way to cause disruption in a system that needs dramatic change, is for children’s attorneys to actively file motions that are important to the client.

“I would love to hear more routinely that it is the child’s attorney who is the chief counsel and who is vigorously advocating for reunification instead of the parent’s attorney, or before the parent’s attorney,”

David Kelly, Director of Family Integrity & Justice Works at PK

An attorney is the child’s advocate and first the line of defense. This means the attorneys should be the first to insist that visitation should never be formulaic. Rather, it should be case-specific and based on the needs of the child.

This, as opposed to being “a warm body in a chair who is viewed as a “rubber stamp” or extension of a child welfare agency,” according to David, would make a dramatic difference in the lives of children in these situations.

How Lawyers Can Support the FIJW Vision

No matter where you are, you can support the vision FIJW is working towards—to radically change child welfare as we know it. Public Knowledge® would love to continue the conversation, get more people engaged, and see what’s possible.

FIJW is launching a peer-reviewed journal, the FIJ Quarterly

Publishing in November 2021, this publication is taking a bold stance. The first issue is dedicated to the harms of the Adoption and Safe Families Act. In the future, the FIJ Quarterly will discuss a variety of topics in a new, compelling way.

Listen to the Podcast

This scratches the surface of the valuable information shared by Stacey and David. Listen to the podcast to learn more about how attorneys can cultivate major change, FIJW, and more.

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