Potential Topics for Future Workshops

Rights for Fathers in Child Protection Cases
The law surrounding the rights of fathers and their children in private custody cases has developed quite a bit over the past 30 years. The tender years doctrine, which presumptively favored mothers in such cases, has been eliminated and replaced by presumptions of joint legal and physical custody, which emphasize the importance of equal access to children for both parents. Similarly, the law surrounding children's rights in custody cases has developed as well. Most child custody statutes require courts to consider the wishes of mature children and permit judges to appoint lawyers to provide independent representation to children. Additionally, the American Bar Association has launched a major initiative to encourage attorneys to represent children in these cases pro bono and has provided grants to legal service organizations across the country to do so. More...

A Child's Right to Biological or Psychological Relationships
Related to the parental due process issue above, but focusing on the child's legal interest, a workshop could ask: what is or ought to be a child's interest in biological relationships? What is the child's legally protected interest in preserving psychological nurturing relationships? What protection should the law extend to a psychological parent relationship between a child and a non-parent caregiver? How should this be done? David Meyers, a Michigan Law graduate teaching at the University of Illinois, has written a series of articles on the constitutional aspects of biological parents, non-biological parent figures and the scope of parents' rights. The changing realities of the American family will continue to challenge us as to the place of biology, continuity of caretaker and psychological parentage. More...

Non-Adversarial Conflict Resolution
One workshop could review non-adversarial conflict resolution (NACR) mechanisms in children's legal cases. Mediation, family group conferencing and problem-solving courts are only a few of the experimental approaches used to focus more attention on addressing the underlying problems facing the child and his or her family and less attention and energy on adversarial litigation. Many commentators criticize the U.S. approach to child protection as too adversarial, encouraging conflict rather than collaboration, and defensiveness rather than open confrontational investigation as our case-finding mechanism and the adversarial character increases as a case reaches the legal system. Our system also focuses narrowly on the immediate family in child welfare proceedings. There is a strong body of support for the proposition that the extended family should be encouraged, engaged, and empowered to provide for children at risk of foster care. More...

The U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child
One semester's workshop could have an international theme and draw upon international norms and practices affecting children in child welfare legal proceedings.  The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most widely supported human rights treaty in the history of the world, is still not ratified by the United States. When it was opened for signatories on January 26, 1990, it garnered the greatest number of signatories ever in a single day: 61. It proceeded to garner more ratifications than any other human rights treaty, 192 or 194 countries. Only Somalia and the United States have not ratified the Convention. Yet there are legitimate concerns on the part of the U.S. opponents. The organized resistance of the U.S. is generally based on a fear of eroding parental rights and encroaching on the traditional state control of family law issues. For a number of decades, religious and cultural conflicts over the family have been frequently litigated as constitutional issues, and the resulting decisions have left religious conservatives with a deep distrust of concentrating decision-making authority over family policy issues in small, elitist institutions like the Supreme Court. Another criticism raised is that, unlike other countries, America would not adopt a law unless we intend to follow it. The argument is that the U.S. is not as deviant as to children's rights and interests as we appear from the bald fact that we are the only government not to have ratified the Convention. Large numbers of countries, approximately 41 by one count, have no child protection proceedings or bureaucracy devoted to child welfare. More...

Children's Rights to Basic Needs
A central concern of child advocates today is the large number of American children who do not have a fair start in life. About 17% of America's children begin life in poverty and lack adequate health care from the beginning of their lives. These children often do not have sufficient food or clothing and may be homeless. Evidence shows that early childhood attachments shape lifelong learning competence. These children are not ready for school and even if they were, the educational opportunities offered in their neighborhood are sorely lacking. Child advocates would say that we should fight for the human right of all children to have a fair and healthy start to their lives. More...

 
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