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Welcome to the Program on Children and the Law at the University of Michigan Law School. For more than 30 years, Michigan Law has been a leader in the development of the jurisprudence regarding children. In 1976, the Law School launched the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, the first clinical law program in America to specialize in problems of child abuse and neglect and children in foster care. Since then, Michigan Law has developed one of the most respected and influential child-law programs in the country. Please explore our website. Whether you are a prospective student, researcher, policy maker, or practitioner in the field, we hope some of these resources are helpful to you.

Featured News

In addition to teaching clinical and doctrinal courses at the Law School, faculty in the Program on Children and the Law are actively involved in practical child welfare work—including representing clients in trial and appellate proceedings, drafting reports for foundations and governmental agencies, presenting at state and national conferences, and writing articles and editorial pieces. Below is a sampling of recent news.

  • Professor Don Duquette discusses the founding of the Child Advocacy Law Clinic with the ABA's Children's Rights Litigation section's Launching and Building a Children's Legal Services Practice series.

  • The Detroit Center for Family Advocacy is profiled by Michigan Radio and the Legal News.

  • Don Duquette was profiled in the Legal News.

  • Professors Vivek Sankaran and Frank Vandervort present at the 15th Annual ABA Conference on Children and the Law.

  • Professor Kim Thomas received the Justice for All Award from the Criminal Defense Attorneys of Michigan (CDAM) for her work on behalf of juvenile justice.

  • Professor Josh Kay was profiled in the Legal News.

  • Professor Frank Vandervort was elected President Elect of the American Professional Society on the Abuse of Children in June. He will serve as President for two years beginning in June 2014.

  • 27 law students from 19 different American law schools participated in the 18th Bergstrom Summer Fellowship Training in Ann Arbor, May 20-22. Each of these law students have demonstrated a strong interest in child welfare law as a career path and will work this summer in child welfare law offices across the U.S.

  • Peter Samuelson, movie producer and intrepid advocate for foster children, gave a resounding keynote address that informed and inspired all in attendance.

Our Clinics

Child Advocacy Law Clinic

Each year, the foster-care system cares for approximately 400,000 children. Legal cases involving these children raise complex questions. Should the child have been placed in foster care? What types of services should be put into place to reunify the family? Is the termination of parental rights warranted? Should the child return home to her family or be adopted by relatives or foster parents? These are but a few of the challenging questions faced by students in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC), a seven-credit clinic open to second- and third-year law students. Students taking this clinic represent children, parents, or the Department of Human Services in court cases that may be located in one of six counties. Each student team has a mix of child-welfare cases representing each of the three major roles, so they get to see and understand the lawyer role from different vantage points and with different concerns and interests. More...

Child Welfare Appellate Clinic

Students in the Child Welfare Appellate Clinic will get an opportunity to improve their writing, research and oral advocacy skills by representing parents in direct appeals to the Michigan Court of Appeals of orders terminating their parental rights. Students, working in teams of two, will handle all aspects of the appellate case including reviewing the record, researching the legal issues, preparing the brief and handling the oral argument. Students may also have an opportunity to work on drafting amicus briefs and applications to the Michigan Supreme Court. There are no prerequisites for the course.

Domestic Relations Mediation Clinic

Students will participate in a full Michigan Supreme Court Administrative Office-approved 48-hour training in the facilitative mediation of domestic relations disputes. Students must be able to participate in all days of this training. After completing training, students begin mediating actual cases. These will involve custody, visitation, and move-away disputes through the Washtenaw County Circuit Court. Students are expected to commit at least a half day each week mediating. The experience is helpful for those who wish to mediate in their careers as well as those who will focus on representing parties in conflict. Learning to mediate will vastly improve any lawyer's critical skills in interviewing, counseling, advocacy, and negotiation.

Juvenile Justice Clinic

In the Juvenile Justice Clinic (JJC), students represent minors charged with violations of the criminal law and status offenses in Michigan's family courts. Students have first-chair responsibility for JJC clients and their cases. This responsibility means that students directly engage in, and reflect on, the practice of law while in law school, under the supervision of experienced professors. While primarily a litigation clinic, students may, from time to time, handle appellate matters and may be involved in public-policy issues. More...

Legislation Clinic

The Legislation Clinic will provide students with an opportunity to observe and participate in many facets of the legislative process and policy advocacy. The clinic is intended to expose the student to the policy issues, legal analysis, drafting, and political process required to successfully advance a proposal through the legislative process. Prior experience with child welfare is not required.

For many years the Child Advocacy Law Clinic (CALC) has engaged in occasional legislative advocacy for child welfare reforms. (Child welfare includes legal and policy issues regarding child maltreatment, children in foster care, and suspension and termination of parental rights) Over these many years, the CALC has served as legislative counsel for various clients, including reform commissions, organizations and individuals. In one instance we served as "of Counsel" to the Michigan Lt. Governor?s Office and worked on a package of bills she was supporting.

We have decided to formalize this occasional legislative advocacy in a separate clinical offering. The clinic will identify clients and policy reform issues that seem ripe for action but require the boost of research, drafting, developing relations with stakeholders, and collaboration with supporting legislators.

Students will first jointly select projects for the semester based on a preliminary list of topics and clients generated by Professor Duquette. To learn about the process and challenges, we will hear from various speakers early in the semester including the Legislative Service Bureau, government officials, lobbyists and our clients. We will travel from time to time to Lansing to meet with legislative leaders and staff. Students will draft legislation in partnership with our clients, stakeholders and the Legislative Service Bureau and identify legislators willing to introduce the appropriate bills.

The legislative process is deliberate (slow) but if one or more of our projects moves quickly enough, the clinic students will work in partnership with our clients to bring about the introduction of bills drafted, develop oral and written testimony, identify additional witnesses, shepherd their bills through the committee process, and work to get the bills ultimately adopted.

Faculty Projects


In October 2009, the U.S. Children's Bureau named the University of Michigan Law School the National Quality Improvement Center on the Representation of Children in the Child Welfare System (QIC-ChildRep).

The QIC-ChildRep is a six-year, multi-million-dollar project to gather, develop, and communicate knowledge on child representation, promote consensus on the role of the child's legal representative, and provide one of the first empirically-based analyses of how legal representation for the child might best be delivered.   

See for more information about the project.

ICPC Project

Prof. Vivek Sankaran has worked on reforming the system governing the interstate placement of foster children. Since the early 1960s, this process has been governed by the Interstate Compact on the Placement of Children (ICPC), a uniform state law adopted by each state. The ICPC has been subject to much criticism and, recently, a national effort has emerged to reform the Compact. The site provides basic resources to advocates interested in learning more about the Compact, and efforts to reform the process. If you have updates to this site or have questions regarding the Compact, please contact Professor Sankaran at More...

Child Welfare Specialist Certification

Between 2002 and 2007, Michigan Law, in partnership with the National Association of Counsel for Children and with support from a grant from the U.S. Children's Bureau, defined a new legal specialty of "child welfare law," achieved form recognition of the specialty from the American Bar Association, and launched the NACC Child Welfare Law Specialty Certification program. Professor Don Duquette was codirector of the National Association of Counsel for Children's national project to certify lawyers as specialists in child welfare law. More...

Detroit Center for Family Advocacy

The Detroit Center for Family Advocacy (CFA) provides legal advocacy and social work services to low-income families to prevent the unnecessary placement and prolonged stay of children in foster care. By doing so, the CFA aims to keep children safe with their families, minimize the emotional trauma caused by removal, and allow the foster-care system to focus its resources on children who need its protection. More...

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