Mitchell Hamline launches multi-pronged effort to safeguard children’s well-being
Children and families face increasing challenges in our legal systems. These include separation in the foster care system due to physical and sexual abuse and neglect, overrepresentation of minority children in the child welfare and criminal justice systems, and difficulty accessing legal and community services necessary to support family preservation.
Mitchell Hamline School of Law is expanding its role as a leading national voice for best practices in the key areas of law affecting children and families with the launch of the Institute for Children, Families, and Communities. The institute will significantly grow Mitchell Hamline’s ability to provide innovative training and experiential opportunities for students and will expand the school’s capacity to engage in evidence-based research and legislative policy work.
The institute is anchored by two programs endowed by distinguished Mitchell Hamline alumni: former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Helen Meyer ’83 and Jeff Anderson ’75, a pioneer in sexual abuse litigation.
Justice Meyer established Mitchell Hamline’s Child Protection Program in 2013 to address systemic issues with parent representation and advocacy within the child protection system. The program’s focus will expand under the new institute through legislative initiatives and statewide training for judges. Additionally, the program will provide law students an opportunity to gain experience representing clients in actual court cases through a new Child Abuse Civil Litigation Clinic, in which students will represent survivors of sexual abuse in civil litigation.
In 2017, Jeff Anderson & Associates launched the Zero Abuse Project at Mitchell Hamline with the goal of preventing, recognizing, and responding to child abuse nationwide. The project significantly ramps up Mitchell Hamline’s training and education in the areas of trauma-informed services and child-welfare issues for both professionals and law students.
The institute, which launched July 1, will be led by Mitchell Hamline Associate Professor Joanna Woolman, who has directed the Child Protection Program since its founding. It will bring together current staff and new hires, including a director of trauma-informed services and training director, to increase community engagement, training and teaching, and policy and research initiatives that began with the Child Protection Program and the Zero Abuse Project.
Focusing its efforts on child welfare, trauma in the legal system, and other family and community well-being issues, the institute will provide new and innovative opportunities for law and graduate students, legal professionals, courtroom and legislative stakeholders, and community partners to become involved in its work. This includes an online certificate program, on-demand webinars, and a daylong symposium and training in September featuring national child trauma expert Bruce Perry.
“The need for an institute to focus on children, families, and communities has become increasingly clear and urgent in today’s world,” said Mitchell Hamline President and Dean Mark C. Gordon. “Through the leadership of Justice Helen Meyer, Jeff Anderson, and Professor Joanna Woolman, Mitchell Hamline has already established itself as a pioneer in this field, and we are eager to move our efforts to the next level.”
The new institute joins a roster of specialized academic programs at Mitchell Hamline that includes the Intellectual Property Institute, the Health Law Institute, and the Dispute Resolution Institute as well as the Indian Law Program and the Center for Law and Business.