Michigan Public Radio Piece on Representation in Child Welfare

Written by: Kathryn Fort

Primary Source : Turtle Talk, February 19, 2014.

Not Native children specific, but an issue we’ve been talking about internally for some time. It’s a nice piece by Sarah Alverez with an interview with Vivek Sankaran.


Moss has not seen her grandsons since they were removed from her care and placed with another relative in a different city. She blames the system, and she knows the system blames her. This deep mistrust is common in child welfare cases, says Vivek Sankaran, a lawyer and a law professor who runs a child welfare legal clinic in Detroit.

“You’re not going to change the child welfare system until you have parents and relatives viewed as partners in this process with the child welfare agency,” he said.

Sankaran has said for years that what could make these care givers more equal partners is a good lawyer working on behalf of the parents and relatives. All the lawyer jokes we’ve ever heard might make that suggestion seem counter intuitive.

But judges, sections of the Michigan State bar, and parents have long said more lawyers are needed. Without them, Sankaran says it’s hard to know if the decisions being made, serious decisions about whether to separate a family or not, are the right ones.

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Kathryn Fort
Kathryn (Kate) E. Fort is the Staff Attorney and Adjunct Professor for the Indigenous Law and Policy Center at Michigan State University College of Law. She joined the Center in 2005 as the Indigenous Law Fellow. In her role with the Center, she co-teaches an experiential learning class, researches and writes on behalf of Center clients and on topics in federal Indian law and manages administrative aspects of the Center. Ms. Fort has written articles on laches and land claims and the Indian Child Welfare Act. Ms. Fort graduated magna cum laude from Michigan State University College of Law with the Certificate in Indigenous Law, and is licensed to practice law in Michigan. Prior to law school, Ms. Fort worked for Congresswoman Lois Capps' 1998 congressional campaign, the Democratic National Committee during the 2000 Presidential race, the National Association of Letter Carriers, and the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee. She received her B.A. in History with honors from Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia.