Michigan Children's Law Center
The Michigan Children's Law Center (MCLC) is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation, which provides legal services to children in the trial and appellate courts. Its mission is to advocate for the safety and well-being of children in the courts and through other programs and services.
The Center represents children who have been neglected or abused or who have been charged with delinquent behavior. MCLC works with social workers, doctors, psychologists, school personnel and other professionals to insure that all issues relating to each child are properly addressed.
Under the guidance of Amy Hartmann and Fred Gruber, the Law Center became operational in December 2004. From its inception, MCLC has been committed to:
- 1. Visiting our children on a regular basis and whenever else it is necessary, in their homes, at their schools or at other appropriate sites.
- 2. Consulting with those individuals who provide care and professional assistance to our children.
- 3. Maintaining continuity of legal representation, whenever possible, between the attorney and child from the initial assignment of the case through the entire legal process.
MCLC's first contract was to provide legal services to children in 350 child protective (neglect) cases. In the intervening years, delinquency cases and appellate work have been added to our caseload.
MCLC attorneys serve as the lawyer-guardian ad litem (L-GAL) in child protective proceedings. The role of the L-GAL in these cases is a unique one. The L-GAL is responsible not only for protecting the legal rights of his or her client, but also for serving as an independent voice for what is in the client's best interests.
In child protective proceedings, the duties of an L-GAL include conducting an independent investigation of each case, meeting with and observing the child and assessing his or her needs and wishes, filing pleadings and calling witnesses on the child's behalf, attending all hearings and monitoring the implementation of case plans and court orders to determine if services are being provided and if those services are beneficial to the child. See MCL 712A.17d.
In delinquency matters, the MCLC attorneys provide legal representation to minors charged with violations of laws or ordinances, running away from home, acts of incorrigibility, and school truancy. The MCLC attorney's first objective is to demonstrate that the minor was not responsible for the act(s) alleged in the petition. If that is not possible, the objective is to resolve the case in such a way as to have minimal impact on the youth's future life. This may be done by placing the case on the consent docket, when appropriate, or putting the child in a diversion program, such as a plea under advisement or correct course, or by negotiating the best available plea bargain.
After adjudication, the MCLC attorney represents the juvenile at progress hearings, administrative review hearings, and probation review hearings until the Court dismisses the wardship or the youth ages out of the system. While the case is pending, the attorney may also appear at escalation or de-escalation hearings based upon changes in the child's behavior. These hearings determine whether the youth's placement needs to be made more stringent or can be relaxed.
Presently, MCLC represents children in six courtrooms in Wayne County Juvenile Court; is responsible for 4 special dockets: (1) Absent Without Leave or Permission, (2) Baby Court; (3) Court to Consent; and (4) Expedited Resolution. The Law Center also is involved in two other special dockets: (1) Mental Behavioral Health and (2) Post Termination Review. In addition, MCLC handles all of the appeals from neglect and delinquency cases, as well as the guardianship and adoption matters.
Since 2004, it is estimated that MCLC has closed over 20,000 neglect and delinquency cases. In addition, the Law Center has represented children on more than 200 appeals.
MCLC has also gained considerable experience serving as the Guardian Ad Litem in family court matters. In this capacity, the Center has represented the best interests of the children in over 150 custody and parenting time disputes. In each case, the assigned attorney conducts a complete investigation into the issues involved, and prepares and submits a report to the Court with findings and recommendations.
The Center also presents programs and workshops and participates in task forces and collaborative councils whose goals and objectives are to more effectively prevent the maltreatment of children, redirect the lives of at risk children and improve the health, education, safety and well-being of children.