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The Third Branch

Wisconsin is well represented at Parent Representation Leadership Forum

By Bridget Bauman, CCIP Director

Fifteen representatives from Wisconsin were among attendees at the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Parent Representation Leadership Forum in Chicago on Dec. 11-12, 2014.

The event, which was sponsored by the American Bar Association (ABA), brought together judicial officers, child welfare professionals, and attorneys from the following states in ACF’s Region 5: Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, and Minnesota. ACF is a division of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.

Parent Representation Leadership Forum
Back row, left to right: Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Anthony G. Milisauskas, Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Dwyer, Atty. Don Bielski, Kenosha County Director of Division of Children and Family Services Ron Rogers, Atty. Aaron Lueck, Atty. Kim Zion, Office of the State Public Defender Legal Counsel Devon Lee, and Atty. Duke Lehto. Front row, left to right: Atty. Kerry Sullivan-Flock, Atty. Susan Bakken Donskey, Dane County Assistant Corporation Counsel Eve Dorman, Department of Children and Families Atty. Sarah Henery, and Dane County Court Commissioner Anton Jamieson. Not pictured: Bridget Bauman, CCIP director; and Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan).

The forum allowed representatives from each state to share their experiences in working to improve parent representation, hear about success stories from across the country, and create action plans to improve parent representation in their jurisdictions. Three of the participants from Wisconsin presented information regarding their experiences and expertise in improving parent representation in child welfare proceedings: Milwaukee County Circuit Court Judge Michael J. Dwyer, Atty. Duke Lehto of Milwaukee County, and Atty. Kim Zion of Dane County.

Dwyer said the forum clarified some important differences between a lawyer representing a parent in a child in need of protection or services (CHIPS) case and a criminal defense lawyer.

“Unlike a criminal case, in a CHIPS case all sides share the same guiding principles: Children should not be removed from their families unless safety requires it, and when they are removed, children should be returned as soon as it can safely be done,” Dwyer said. “This difference explains why the role of the parent’s lawyer extends far beyond the legal issues of jurisdiction and conditions for return to advocacy about placement, services and visitation, roles unknown in the criminal defense world,” Dwyer added.

Studies have shown the importance of providing parents with high quality legal representation in child welfare proceedings, including evidence that children are removed from their homes less often when an attorney is assigned before court action is taken, children are returned to their homes sooner, re-entry rates are decreased, and children who are removed reach permanency (including adoption and guardianship) faster.

The forum presented information that was very helpful in assisting the courts in accomplishing this important task, said Kenosha County Circuit Court Judge Anthony G. Milisauskas.

“It is very important for judges who preside over CHIPS cases to understand the importance of attorney representation for parents in the legal process,” Milisauskas said.

Quality legal representation has proven that parents complete their conditions of return more successfully than unrepresented parents and that children achieve permanency more quickly.

Among those from Wisconsin who attended the conference were Rep. Joan Ballweg (R-Markesan); Bridget Bauman, CCIP director; Atty. Susan Bakken Donskey, Monroe County; Atty. Don Bielski, Kenosha County; Eve Dorman, Dane County assistant corporation counsel; Dwyer; Dane County Court Commissioner Anton Jamieson; Atty. Sarah Henery, Wisconsin Department of Children and Families; Devon Lee, legal counsel, Office of the State Public Defender; Lehto; Atty. Aaron Lueck, Monroe County; Milisauskas; Ron Rogers, Kenosha County director of Division of Children and Family Services; Atty. Kerry Sullivan-Flock, Monroe County; and Zion.

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