Friday, January 4, 2013

ICWA and the SCOTUS

For only the second time, the Supreme Court of the United States will hear a case involving the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA).  This Reuters article describes the situation as a "human tragedy," which pretty much can describe any case on appeal involving ICWA, as the failure to abide by ICWA's mandates can essentially 'undo' an adoption.

Whatever the result, it will be wonderful for attorneys involved in these types of cases to have a little more guidance from the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Amendment, Pastors, and the IRS

I thought that this story (here and here) was fascinating.  Currently churches can lose their 501(c)(3) status if the pastor endorses candidates, as the church is no longer purely a religious organization.  These pastors believe that such a rule violates their First Amendment right to free speech.  I guess we'll have to wait and see what happens.  Any pastors in South Dakota participating?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Right to Counsel for Children

This link has a report card for each state on a child's right to counsel.  South Dakota only earns a D.  This report card is based on laws actually on the books, not based on how those laws are applied by the Courts. When we look at how the laws are applied, I think that South Dakota would score a little higher, but perhaps it raises a good question about whether the laws should reflect the best practices of the state courts?

Thanks to the Children's Advocacy Institute, FirstStar, and the University of San Diego School of Law for conducting this study and making your results public.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Trauma

Trauma seems to be the new hot button issue for those who work in the child welfare system.  So...what exactly is trauma?  The definition that I received at the session on Polyvictimization and Child Trauma at the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) conference is as follows (and note that this definition is geared toward children, but is more broadly applicable):
- extraordinary experience that threatens the life or physical integrity of a child or of someone important to that child
- this extraordinary experience causes overwhelming sense of terror, helplessness, and horror
- this extraordinary experience produces intense physical effects.

Okay, but we all know that those who are involved in the child welfare system, whether they are parents or children, have experienced some truly awful things.  Why is trauma as a concept so important for us to consider and look for?  A study called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study found that childhood trauma results in a reduction of life expectancy of 19 years.  This is a big deal.  Nineteen years can mean the difference between seeing your child graduate from college or get married, or meeting a grandchild.

So how do we know whether the experiences are just a bad thing (or a series of bad things) that happened to a person, or whether they constitute a trauma, which the person may need assistance in dealing with?  We look for symptoms, such as diagnoses of PTSD, ODD, bipolar disorder, ADD, ADHD, and conduct disorder.  Other symptoms besides diagnoses include avoidance, feeling numb or disengaged, hyperarousal or emotional/behavioral agitation, re-experiencing, feelings of powerlessness and helplessness, and feelings of hyper-vigilance.  These types of symptoms may also be a clue that there is an underlying trauma, if you were not already aware of the trauma and were only aware of the diagnoses.

Once you are aware of the types of symptoms listed above, and that there may be trauma underlying those symptoms, it is key to conduct a trauma assessment, which is more in-depth and is different from a routine general mental health treatment.  The person conducting a trauma assessment should be a mental health provider with training on trauma.  The assessment is intended to determine whether the child (or person) needs trauma focused treatment.

So why am I writing about trauma on a blog that is not necessarily geared toward other attorneys and professionals in the child welfare system (although I certainly welcome them to read as well!)?  Because anyone can look for trauma and recognize some of the symptoms of trauma and then assist the person to obtain an assessment and trauma-focused treatment, if necessary.  And because 19 years is a really big deal.

Thanks to the presenters at the NACC Conference on this topic, as well as the National Child Traumatic Stress Network, Child Welfare Committee for the resources for this post.

Monday, August 20, 2012

National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) Conference


I just returned from the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) Conference in Chicago, IL.  It was fabulous (just as it was last year)!  It's given me some great ideas for posts, so I'll be updating the blog soon with all of the great information I learned.

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Youth with Sexual Behavior Problems

I wrote an article that was published on the Through the Eyes of the Child Initiative's website.  Here's the link.  Please feel free to check it out & let me know if you have any comments.  

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Shaken Baby Syndrome

When I was a law clerk, the year after I graduated from law school, I had the opportunity to watch two separate criminal trials where the issue was shaken baby syndrome.  In one trial, the defendant was convicted; in the other, the defendant was acquitted.  In both cases, the prosecution and defense both presented the testimony of expert witnesses on this very topic.  Needless to say, it was extremely interesting to watch and learn about.  However, it made very clear to me that the diagnoses of shaken baby syndrome is far from a medical certainty.  There are many variables that go into whether shaken baby syndrome is present in the particular child.  But even more interesting (at least to me), is the question of whether shaken baby syndrome even exists, as well as whether shaking alone can cause injury or if an impact of the head is needed.  I take no position on this, because frankly I lack the medical training to honestly evaluate it.

In the December 2011 issue of the ABA Journal, an American Bar Association publication, this very topic has been taken up.  I urge you to read it and consider the issue for yourself.  (The article is in the hard copy version of the ABA Journal, but hasn't yet been posted on their website.  Once it is, I'll add the link.)  Here is the link to the article (Updated 12/08/2011).  The ABA Journal has also written about this topic before.  This is a list of some of their other articles on the topic.