By John MassonJuly 10, 2012
It's been three years since Michigan Law's Detroit Center for Family Advocacy (CFA) opened its doors with a path-breaking approach to family preservation: teamwork.
The CFA, founded by Michigan Law Prof. Vivek Sankaran, aims to keep families together through its unique combination of lawyering, social work, and parental advocacy. The goal is to prevent children being needlessly separated from their families when much less intrusive interventions are almost always cheaper, more effective—and much better for the child.
Wayne County, with its badly overburdened social services system, was a natural location for the center, which was designed as a model that can be adopted throughout the country, Prof. Sankaran said. One third of Michigan's foster children and half of the state's permanent court wards come from Wayne County and Detroit. And so far the CFA—working hand-in-hand with the Michigan Department of Social Services—has served 398 children from 151 families.
Prof. Sankaran hopes the CFA—which has received funding from the Kellogg Foundation, the Skillman Foundation, the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, Casey Family Programs, the Dewitt C. Holbrook Foundation, and the McGregor Fund, as well as gifts from private donors—will have the opportunity to help more kids in the future.
"Our hope is just to reach more families," he said. "From our perspective, we've succeeded in demonstrating that our innovative approach works. Our next step is to figure out how to sustain this type of work, and integrate our model here and around the country."
To be sure, as with any three-year-old being, the Center faces challenges.
Steady funding remains an issue, Prof. Sankaran said, especially since the CFA doesn't fit neatly into any particular social services box. But he hopes the day will come when the teamwork method of family preservation joins such previously unheard-of child welfare concepts as lawyers for children, lawyers for their parents, and even the idea that kids are better off in foster homes, if they must be removed, than they would be in large institutions.
"There was a time when all those things were considered revolutionary concepts, and then they became just a part of what we do," Prof. Sankaran said. "We want to take this message, and the data we've gathered, to local, state, and national policymakers and start educating them about it. They need to think about this type of legal work as a type of prevention."
Watch a video about the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy.
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