Ingham County Bar Association Child Welfare Section meets

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By Roberta Gubbins

Legal News

"The purpose of this presentation is to recruit you for a job," Betsy Warner, attorney, and expert on Child Welfare Law, said to the members of the newly formed Ingham County Bar Association Child Welfare Section at its meeting held on January 19th at the State Bar in Lansing.

"This job has potential; you can save people from losing their children through termination or what the courts have termed 'civil death', you can get a tremendous amount of trial and appeal experience and feel like you are actually making a difference for your client. All this can happen, if you are willing to get admitted to a federal court and are willing to practice child welfare in this state."

Warner said that child welfare law is "the civil rights movement in this country, which is supported by the rule of law, Republican, conservative judges that are filling up our courts. It is a ripe environment for making changes in this country."

The Michigan Supreme Court, she said, was one of the foremost authors of some of the early civil rights for families. The court "gave a right to counsel, a right to appeal, a right to transcripts, and right to process both substantive and procedurally."

Warner claimed that because mistakes such as "over-charging by prosecutors, state failure to help families before removing children, failure to follow state laws, or loss of right to trial if one parent admits to wrong-doing" are being made there is a need for competent attorneys to help families.

Warner argued that "if the Department of Human Services would follow their own manual, we wouldn't have a fraction of the cases we have today."

Under the child welfare law, she indicated, there are aggravated and non-aggravated cases. Only 10% of cases are aggravated or cases with serious physical injury, sexual abuse, abandonment or prior terminations. The remaining are neglect matters, which are "headed for re-unification."

The preliminary hearing, Warner said, "is the most important hearing in a child protection case. This is where the parties get a lawyer, where relatives are found to take the children, where the case is refined to make it what it ought to be about, and can wash out parents that won't make it. This hearing should last an hour--in some counties, they last about seven minutes."

She recommends asking for an evidentiary hearing if the plan is removal of the children. "Reasonable efforts hearings are also available where the government must bring forth evidence that those efforts have been made," she said.

Warner concluded urging more attorneys to become involved with child welfare law matters at both the trial and appellate levels.

"Good parent attorneys and good visitation equals re-unification," Warner said, "which adds up to saving lots of money for the state."

The next Child Welfare Section meeting will be on February 23rd at the State Bar Building at noon. The topic is ''Successful Use of Mediation in Neglect/Abuse Cases'' presented by Linda Glover (Executive Director of the Resolution Services Center).

Published: Thu, Feb 17, 2011

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