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2009 Inaugural Johnson Workshop: The Capacity of Children to Participate in Legal Decisions Affecting Their Welfare

The inaugural Johnson Workshop, held in 2009, chose as its organizing theme "The Capacity of Children to Participate in Legal Decisions Affecting Their Welfare." The workshop addressed numerous questions, including: Under what circumstances can a child give meaningful direction to his lawyer or the court in child protection or custody cases? In the context of divorce custody, when should a court be required to inquire as to a child's preferences? How should this be done? What weight should be given to a child's stated preference at various ages and under various circumstances? A similar set of questions arises when the child has appointed counsel in either divorce child custody or child protection cases. At what age should the lawyer represent the child's stated wishes? How is a lawyer to determine the goals of such litigation, i.e., the best interests of a child? What weight is to be given to the child's expressed wishes? These questions depend on a child's competence at various ages, but how is a lawyer or court to evaluate a child's ability to make such important judgments? None of this ground is close to being settled in the law. Is there guidance available from child development scientists?

Juvenile Delinquency
With juvenile delinquency, the growing body of brain development research raises new questions of the propriety of holding youth to the same standards of adults in punishing them for criminal behavior. But the courts and legislatures are confused about how to evaluate and apply the latest and best scientific information on such questions. More...

Student Papers
Five papers written by students in the Winter 2009 Workshop were published in the Michigan Child Welfare Law Journal (Summer 2009). You can access them here. The articles are as follows:

  • "Comment on the Committee's Model Act Governing Representation of Children in Abuse and Neglect Proceedings," by John Anzelc, Melissa Cohen, and Sarah Taylor
  • "Evaluating a Child's Decision-Making Competence in a Best-Interests World: Infusing an Attorney's Intuition with Developmental Science," by Sheba Rogers, William Wall, and Samuel Zun
  • "Remaining vs. Removal: Preventing Premature Removal when Poverty is Confused with Neglect," by Erica Turcios
  • "Decision-Making Rights of Teen Parents," by John Calvin, Manouchka Colon, and Kacey Houston
  • "Juvenile Life Without Parole: A Review of Relevant Scientific Evidence, Penological Theories, and Policy Interests," by Daniel E. Choe, Liz Reynolds, and Jessica Stoll


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