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Michigan Law Hosts Bergstrom Fellows

Michigan Law Hosts Annual Bergstrom Fellowship Training for Aspiring Child Welfare Lawyers

By Lori Atherton
May 18, 2014

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 have been nurtured in their chosen career path thanks to the training they received from Michigan Law's Child Advocacy Law Clinic.

This year, 21 fellows from New York University, University of California, Berkeley, and other law schools from across the country will participate in a three-day training program at the Law School on May 19-21, during which they'll get an overview of the child welfare system and its pressing issues from experts in the field. Two of the fellows include Michigan Law students Anisha Asher, a rising 3L, and Miriam Schachter, a rising 2L.

"There are a lot of students who aspire to do this sort of work, but they need encouragement even in law school," said Prof. Duquette, who has been involved with the Bergstrom 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. 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."

Clinical Prof. Frank Vandervort, who teaches in the Child Advocacy Law Clinic, was charged with planning this year's speakers and topics, which focus on child development and the impact of trauma, kinship care, the impact of drug use on parenting, and appropriate and inappropriate uses of culture in child welfare decision-making. Also planned is a keynote speech by Prof. Elizabeth Bartholet, the Morris Wasserstein Public Interest Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and faculty director of its Child Advocacy Program.

After the training, the fellows will utilize their newfound knowledge in child welfare placements around the country. Asher will work at the Learning Rights Law Center in Los Angeles, for example, while Schachter will go to Legal Aid of New York. In addition, four of the fellows will work in Michigan Law's Child Advocacy Law Clinic and another two will intern at the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy, a program founded at Michigan Law.

Schachter, who previously taught English-language learners in Kansas City through Teach For America and has a master's degree in elementary education, wants to be a legal advocate for children after graduating from law school. As part of her Legal Aid internship, she'll be working in the Manhattan trial office of the Juvenile Rights Practice, which represents children in abuse and neglect and juvenile delinquency proceedings.

"I applied for the Bergstrom Fellowship in order to build on my experiences in the classroom and learn from practitioners in the field how to advocate for children in a holistic way, so that not only are their legal rights protected but also their emotional and psychological well-being," Schacter said. "I know that the skills and practices I will learn at the training will set me up for success this summer as I begin my professional career in child advocacy law."

The Bergstrom Fellowship program began in 1995 with a three-year grant from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation. It is now funded by a gift from the Bergstrom Foundation in honor of the late Henry A. Bergstrom, '35, which covers the fellows' living expenses during the training along with travel costs to Ann Arbor and to their placement location.

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