Michigan pilot program aims to keep some children from being removed by CPS

Oralandar Brand-Williams
The Detroit News

Michigan state court and Child Protective Services officials announced a new program Wednesday in Wayne County that will provide some parents with free legal services before the state asks a judge to remove a child or children from the home in hopes of keeping families together. 

Parents needing assistance for problems such as housing, immigration issues, probate or guardian concerns as well as substance abuse will qualify for assistance for free legal services through legal aid groups Lakeshore Legal Aid and Neighborhood Defenders Service through the pilot program being offered in Wayne County.

Chief Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said the pilot program will help strengthen families and keep them together.

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The free legal services will be available to parents whose children are at high risk of being removed from the home but where there is also a legal matter that can be resolved and possibly prevent the need for a removal petition. 

The program, believed to be the first of its kind in the country according to a release from the Michigan Supreme Court, was announced as child legal advocates, social workers, juvenile judges and others observe Family Reunification Month. The program is grant-funded and its budget is $700,000, state court officials said Wednesday.

The program was announced Wednesday during a news conference hosted on Zoom and that included Michigan Supreme Court justices Elizabeth Clement and Megan Cavanagh as well as Wayne County judges and court officials.

Chief Wayne County Judge Timothy Kenny said the pilot program will help strengthen families and keep them together.

Kenny said the legal services will "certainly help families stay together and will also help families solve these ancillary legal entanglements that have arisen."

Kenny said the attorneys that will help families are "champions" who will bring " a passion to fight for their client.

Presiding Judge Edward Joseph, of the Third Circuit Court's Juvenile Division, said the program will help the court "change the focus" in some cases to preventing the removal of children from their homes.

"We're confident that by providing help at the beginning we can help many families stay together (and) avoid removal, avoid children entering the system which will avoid further trauma to a family that is already experiencing difficulty," said Joseph.

The courts and the legal services organizations will partner with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services' Child Protective Services division.

Richard Smart, deputy court administrator for the Juvenile Division of Third Circuit Court, said the program is the "new approach for the 21st Century for juvenile courts across this land."

Smart added "We're going to identify those families that need our services. We think not only will the families be better off but the court system itself will be better off."

brand-williams@detroitnews.com

@oralandar_dn