Throughout the year, we will periodically post about terminology and system-specific terms CASA uses. This month, in honor of our new training group, we will do a deep dive into terms we commonly use. You will hear CASA talk about how we advocate for children's best interests. What does best interest mean and who determines it? The best interest of the child or children has some surprising origins within the child welfare system. We will talk about three of these philosophies of best interest.
Firstly, we have the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. Article Three specifically talks about the Best Interests of the Child. “In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”
Secondly, we have the International Federation of Social Workers. They state “The best interest would be support through infancy to adulthood. This includes access to health, education and community support, critical in developing the child’s perception of society and his/her responsibilities to the wider community.”
Lastly, we have the Michigan law 722.23 Section 3 of the Child Custody Act of 1970. It is written (this has been condensed down to not weigh anyone down with legal jargon) “As used in this act, ‘best interests of the child’ means the sum total of the following factors to be considered, evaluated, and determined by the court:
Now that we have looked at three separate entities and how they define best interest of the child, we can see they overlap in certain aspects. Overall they all state that best interest means the child is receiving support to their development that allows them to thrive and supports them into a healthy adulthood. Legally best interest factors are at the center of CASA’s advocacy for children. However, we know each child and their family is unique and their best interest must be assessed with that unique lens. Every recommendation CASA volunteers make in the court system and community on behalf of a child is centered on what is in the child’s best interest, taking into consideration their unique needs, values, and cultural identity.
To learn more about these factors consider going to the following links:
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Month. January was first designated in 2010 to increase awareness of human trafficking. Here at CASA, we provide advocates for various cases, including those involving aspects of human trafficking. With a lot of media attention and people speaking about human trafficking, we believe it is worth it to dispel some myths as well as give a bigger picture of what human trafficking looks like.
What is Human Trafficking?
The Department of Homeland Security defines Human Trafficking as “the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”
Who are the survivors of human trafficking?
When we talk about human trafficking, people often think of the movement of women or girls for non-consensual commercial sex. Having this view on human trafficking is understandable, as popular media focuses on the stories of female and young survivors. However, according to the Polaris Project, 35% of total survivors of human trafficking were not female. A majority of non-female survivors were being trafficked for labor purposes. Much like child abuse and neglect cases, there is not a single set of risk factors that could lead one to being trafficked. Survivors come from all walks of life in the United States and other countries.
What does it look like?
Often media portrays human traffickers as strangers who force people into these situations. According to the Polaris Project, in 2021, approximately 91% of human trafficking survivors had a close or previous relationship with their trafficker. Similar to grooming practices with sexual abuse cases, human traffickers do not start out with trafficking immediately. Usually, it is a slow increase in behaviors and pushing their limits until the survivor is involved in trafficking. Regarding trafficking across countries' borders, citizenship or gainful employment can be promised. Another way people are coerced is through access to addictive substances.
If you take one thing away from our blog, let it be this: there is no set victimology. There is no one set way that people become trafficked. Survivors come from every walk of life; think about those in our farm fields, those who engage in commercial sex acts, and those who build our large commercial properties. Please support systems in place that assist people out of these situations.
Check out these national resources for more information on human trafficking!
Helping Survivors https://helpingsurvivors.org/
Recently the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has proposed a rule to strengthen the implementation of Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Before we get into what the proposed change is, we need to know what the legislation currently covers.
When the Rehabilitation Act was signed into law in 1973, it created a national law that protects qualified individuals from discrimination based on their disability. This section of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 is where we get the Section 504 plans for students in schools. This requires recipients of federal funding to provide students with disabilities with appropriate educational services.
The proposed change to the rule would update, clarify, and strengthen the regulation for Section 504. One change that is proposed would ensure medical treatment decisions are not based on any biases, stereotypes, judgments, or beliefs that people with a disability have less value.
Another proposed change, that directly impacts CASA’s work with children, is that there will be requirements to ensure nondiscrimination in the areas of parent-child visitation, reunification services, child removals and placements, guardianship, parenting skills program, foster and adoptive assessments, and in and out of home services. This proposed change is in direct response to the variety of discriminatory barriers parents, caregivers, and foster parents have encountered when attempting to access child welfare programs. It is wonderful to see changes happening to benefit children wit disabilities and their support systems. With these proposed changes, CASA will continue to advocate for children to have access to services that are appropriate for their unique needs.
Want to learn more about this change? Click here!
Recently, the US Department of Health and Human Services announced a proposed rule that will direct child welfare agencies around the country to “fully implement existing protections for LGBTQ+ youth in foster care.” The Human Rights Campaign, HRC, praised the move, stating, “This proposed rulemaking is an important step toward ensuring LGBTQ+ youth in foster care, who make up nearly one in three of the children in the foster care system, have the safe, healthy, and affirming environments they need in order to thrive.” The proposed rule would require child welfare agencies to give youth access to evidence-based behavioral and mental health care that supports their sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. As well as banning the use of “conversion therapy.”
Here at CASA, we support every effort that helps support children as they navigate growing up and the foster care system. Our volunteers undergo initial training on how to advocate for children of diverse backgrounds and ongoing training on supporting children of diverse backgrounds. Several studies conducted since 2019 have reported that 1 in 3 children in foster care identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community. It is critical to support all children in foster care, especially youth in the LGBTQ+ community, as they are over-represented in foster care. While there is a long way to go in supporting youth who belong to the LGBTQ+ community, this is an excellent start to advocate for healthier outcomes for these youth.
As a part of ensuring LGBTQ+ youth have access to affirming environments where they can thrive, CASA’s recruiting and training team is developing resource lists for our communities. Here are some resources for LGTBQ+ youth in Barry, Eaton, and Ingham counties!
To learn more and review our sources click on the link below:
On June 15th, 2023 the United States Supreme Court upheld ICWA as constitutional. You may also see this decision labelled as Haaland v. Brakeen. The majority opinion wrote that the law was constitutional and protected the rights of Native children. But what is ICWA? How did it come about? And what does this ruling mean for child welfare going forward?
ICWA or the Indian Child Welfare Act is a law designed to protect Indigenous children so they have the ability to observe any cultural traditions they have. It was first signed into law in 1978 by the United States congress. This law was put in place to protect and enshrine the ability of Native children to be attached and integrated in their communities or origin. ICWA states that when an Indigenous child is removed from their home their placement has to be with family, then with members of the same tribe if their is no extended family members, then with members of another tribe if there are no tribal members available to take the child. This is to continue a child’s ability to be integrated in their own culture and community. Another aspect of ICWA is to provide “active efforts” to Native families. This means providing services within in a certain time frame, including the tribe on decisions involving the family, and including parents in decisions when it comes to their child’s cultural practices, as well as other casework aspects.
Secondly, ICWA is designed specifically to combat the effects of Boarding Schools, Industrial Schools, and placements that do not allow children to honor their culture. Historically, Indigenous children were removed and placed outside their community more often than other children.
In Michigan ICWA was codified in state law through was 2012 Public Act 565, which created the Michigan Indian Family Preservation Act (MIFPA) in 2013. In addition to ensure ICWA standards in Michigan, MIFPA goes beyond the ICWA standards to ensure that there are protections for indigenous children and families in both the juvenile and family court systems.
What does this mean going forward? The rights of Indigenous children will continue to be abided by and honored. Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch has a quote that best underscores what this means for the future of families -