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Alumni Service Day 2012

Nurturing aspiring child welfare lawyers: Michigan Law welcomes Bergstrom Fellows for training

By Lori Atherton

It's not uncommon for Clinical Prof. Don Duquette, '75, to encounter past Bergstrom Fellows at conferences and lectures throughout the country. Since the Bergstrom Child Welfare Law Summer Fellowship began in 1995, hundreds of aspiring child welfare lawyers from law schools across the United States have been nurtured in their chosen career path thanks to the training they received from the Child Advocacy Law Clinic.

"There are a lot of students who aspire to do this sort of work, but they need encouragement even in law school," said Duquette, who has been involved with the program since its inception. "I think of the Bergstrom Fellowship as one of the first steps on a career ladder that can create leaders in child welfare in America. We want the students to know not only how socially valuable the work is, but also how intellectually challenging it is. The law in this area is developing at a huge and rapid rate, and it requires lawyers to synthesize information from other areas, including medicine, psychiatry, and social work. We want them to be inspired."

The 25 Fellows—including six Michigan students—will participate in a three-day training at the Law School on May 21–23. They'll get an overview of the child welfare system and its pressing issues from experts in the field, said Clinical Assistant Prof. Joshua Kay, the director of this year's training. After the training, the Fellows will go on to placements in child welfare law around the country.

"I want Fellows to come away with a sense of the pressing issues in child welfare law and policy, and what kids and families go through in this system," Kay said. "They don't need to come away with a particular knowledge of Michigan's child welfare law, because they might be going to Oregon. I want them to come here and get a really good overview of what the system is all about."

Kay was charged with planning this year's speakers and topics, with the goal of focusing on important areas of child welfare law, including "Child Development and the Impact of Trauma," "Drug Abuse and Parenting," and "The Relationship Between Lawyers and Social Workers." A particular highlight is the keynote speech given by Kevin Ryan, a renowned child law advocate and president and CEO of Covenant House International, an organization aiding homeless youth.

"While we can't encapsulate everything about child welfare in a three-day span," Kay said, "we're very excited about the opportunity to give students a real launching pad to have a great educational experience for the rest of the summer in the field they've chosen."

The Bergstrom Fellowship program began in 1995 with a three-year grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, as a part of the foundation's Families for Kids Initiative. The Bergstrom Fellowship is now funded by a gift from the Bergstrom Foundation in honor of the late Henry A. Bergstrom, '35, that covers the Fellows' living expenses during the training as well as each Fellow's travel costs to Ann Arbor and then to his or her placement (up to $500).

Selection criteria for Bergstrom Fellows include evidence of commitment to the field of children's law, past experiences related to children and family, and performance indicative of likely future success in the field.

"It's a great feeling to look at the applications, and to see the students and how primed they are for this," Kay said. "It's just a particularly exciting chance for them and for us."

"I'm impressed with the quality of students that apply," added Duquette. "I love seeing their youthful idealism. It reminds me of why we do this work in the first place."

 

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