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The Third Branch

Commission creates subcommittee to address child safety decision-making

By Amy Roehl, CCIP Policy Analyst

The Wisconsin Commission on Children, Families, and the Courts has created a new subcommittee to enhance child safety decision-making across the state. The Child Safety Subcommittee is comprised of judicial officers and several stakeholders, including representatives from the state Department of Children and Families, district attorney and corporation counsel offices, the private bar, the State Public Defender's Office, tribes, and county child welfare agencies.

The subcommittee was formed with the goals of creating a common language across disciplines and a consistent critical thinking framework regarding child safety, educating all child welfare and court professionals on child safety, and implementing consistent child safety decision-making practices across the state. The Child Safety Subcommittee will serve in an advisory role and make recommendations related to development of policy, resource materials, statutory changes, and training curricula to accomplish these goals.

At the subcommittee's kick-off meeting, members received training on "Child Safety: A Guide for Judges and Attorneys." The guide was written by Therese Roe Lund of the National Resource Center for Child Protective Services and Jennifer Renne of the National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues. It describes a safety decision-making practice model that provides judges and attorneys with the information and tools necessary to make better decisions regarding removal and return home for children in the child welfare system.

Members of the subcommittee will examine how this safety decision-making model may be utilized and how the practices implemented through the Milwaukee Model Court Project may be implemented across the state. The Milwaukee Model Court Project, created in May 2012 through a partnership between the Milwaukee County Children's Court, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) and the Children's Court Improvement Program (CCIP), has used the guide to establish a common understanding and definition of safety decision-making and advance its goal of empowering social workers in court.

The Child Safety Subcommittee is co-chaired by Mary Pat Bohn, deputy director, Bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare, and Atty. Molly Jasmer, Waukesha County Assistant Corporation Counsel.

"It is important for all stakeholders to be on the same page so that children are placed outside their home only when safety threats cannot be managed with an in-home safety plan. I am very excited to co-chair the Child Safety Subcommittee and see how our experience in Milwaukee may be replicated in other parts of the state," Bohn said.

The Wisconsin Commission on Children, Families, and the Courts advises the Director of State Courts Office in its capacity as the grantee of the federal Children's Court Improvement Program, a federal initiative to improve the processing of child welfare cases in the court system.

The subcommittee members are Atty. Timothy Angel, private bar attorney; Jonelle Brom, Department of Children and Families; Atty. Mike Colgan, private bar attorney; Judge Craig R. Day, Grant County Circuit Court; Judge William Domina, Waukesha County Circuit Court; Atty. Eve Dorman, Dane County assistant corporation counsel; Judge Shelley Gaylord, Dane County Circuit Court; Atty. Kathryn Holtz, State Public Defender's Office; Atty. Nicole Homer, Ho-Chunk Nation; Autumn Knudtson, Department of Children and Families; Atty. Duke Lehto, private bar attorney; Court Commissioner Sandra Marcus, Marathon County; Jacquie Mohawk, Menominee Tribal Social Services; Kristi Petersen, Pierce County Department of Human Services; Beth Smetana, Jackson County Department of Health and Human Services; Atty. Mary Sowinski, Vilas County corporation counsel; and Laura Wagner, Jefferson County Human Services Department.

Contact Amy Roehl, Children's Court Improvement Program Policy Analyst, at amy.roehl@wicourts.gov or (608) 264-6905.

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