Mitchell Hamline’s Child Protection Program will hold a Feb. 26 symposium on parent and child representation in the child protection system.
Co-sponsored by the Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, the all-day CLE event is open to the public. The program is considered especially pertinent for judges, attorneys, elected officials, and policy-makers, who are invited to hear from local and national experts on how improvements to parent and child representation are linked to positive outcomes for children and families.
Mitchell Hamline is getting attention for its success in reuniting families that have entered the state’s child protection system.
Parents in the program have meetings every few weeks with attorneys, mentors, and social workers. It’s an effort to help them navigate the legal system of child protective services and determine the root causes of why their family entered the system.
Judges, lawyers, social workers, and advocates agree that whenever possible and safe for children, families should be kept intact.
That’s the guiding principle of Mitchell Hamline’s program, according to Joanna Woolman, the program’s director.
“We’re trying to figure out how best to achieve reunification in most of the cases as quickly and safely as possible.”
It’s an approach that appears to be paying off.
Woolman says only 6 percent of the program’s families re-enter child protective services a year after leaving. Nationally, the number is 9 percent. Statewide it’s even higher, as much as 33 percent.
Woolman says that’s because most Minnesota parents with children in foster care don’t have frequent contact with an attorney or caseworker.
“Most counties in Minnesota, parents meet with their attorneys 10 to 15 minutes before court,” Woolman said. “That’s the only contact they have with them every three months. That’s not the best practice.”
The Mitchell Hamline Child Protection Program received a boost recently through foundation and donor support.
This fall, the Casey Family Foundation and the St. Paul Foundation provided grants to bolster the program’s parent-mentoring programs.
Private support has come from Jeff Anderson ’75, through the Jeffrey R. Anderson fund for the Well Being of Children. Anderson is a well-known St. Paul attorney who received the school’s Honorable Warren E. Burger ‘31 Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011.
Foundational support for the program comes from the Justice Helen M. Meyer ’83 Endowment for Child Protection. A former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice, Meyer established the fund to advance research, teaching, writing, and the development of best practices to enhance the protection of children in the courts.
“It’s really what’s made this possible from the very beginning,” Woolman said. “Justice Meyer has supported the clinic and gave this endowment to support the program. She’s very involved with what we do.”
Mitchell Hamline’s Child Protection Program also offers on-the-job experiences for students, with a number of opportunities to serve as parent mentors and child advocates in the program’s Child Protection Clinic.