Children & the Law Section Blog | Children & the Law Section

This blog discusses information of interest to attorneys who represent various parties, including children, parents, and grandparents, as well as agencies that serve children. Published by the State Bar of Wisconsin’s Children & the Law Section, articles include those on changes in the statutes, important appellate and Supreme Court decisions, and family law, juvenile delinquency and child welfare proceedings.

Section members include judges, court commissioners, prosecutors, guardians ad litem, agency attorneys, and private practice attorneys. The practice areas of the section members include family, juvenile delinquency and child welfare proceedings. The section has an email list, monitors and proposes legislation, produces CLE programs, and publishes a newsletter.

Members of the State Bar of Wisconsin may join the section by visiting https://www.wisbar.org/formembers/groups/pages/join-a-group.aspx (login required).

Section website: https://www.wisbar.org/formembers/groups/sections/ChildrenandtheLawSection/pages/home.aspx

A parent in a termination of parental rights proceeding has a near absolute statutory right to counsel, pursuant to Wis. Stat. section 48.23. Case law establishes that a parent’s statutory right to counsel is not limited to those who appear in person, and that such a right can withstand default judgment.1Wis. Stat. Section 48.23(2)(b)3 In response to these cases, the Wisconsin Legislature amended the statutes to create a process by which a parent may presumptively waive their
Continue Reading ‘Egregious’ and Accidental Waiver of Counsel in TPR Cases

For the past several years, Wisconsin has ranked near the top of the country for racial disparity in nearly every category related to the juvenile justice system.1

State and national trends also support that there is a particular group of youth of color that are uniquely susceptible to involvement in the juvenile justice system: those who have a disability. Nationally, children with disabilities are removed from school and referred to and involved in the juvenile justice system at
Continue Reading Interrupting the School to Prison Pipeline at the Intersection of Race and Disability

The idea of a family drug treatment court is that it takes teamwork, collaboration, and commitment to successfully rehabilitate participants with substance use disorders via a community-based alternative to incarceration.

Milwaukee County’s Family Drug Treatment Court (FDTC), begun in May 2011, and was a first for Wisconsin. The program diverts participants from the traditional justice system into a specialty court and creates an individualized plan that takes into account the participant’s mental and physical health as well as any
Continue Reading An Overview of Milwaukee County’s Family Drug Treatment Court

For the past several years, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) has researched models that promote family engagement with parent experiences in the child welfare system to effect change. DCF explored many different models, and selected Iowa’s Parent Partner Model to adapt in Wisconsin because of its many potential benefits as well as for the ability for Wisconsin to contribute to the research base. Parents Supporting Parents in Wisconsin The Wisconsin Parent Partner Model, known as Parents Supporting
Continue Reading Invaluable: Wisconsin’s Parent Support Program

Earlier this year, the Wisconsin Supreme Court again waded into the waters of termination of parental rights law in State v. A.G.1 The Court, in its decision, addressed whether, A.G.’s plea was knowingly, voluntarily, and intelligently entered, based on the circuit court informing him during the plea colloquy that the State would have to prove at disposition that termination of parental rights was in the best interests of his child by “clear and convincing” evidence. Wis. Stat. section
Continue Reading Burden of Proof: ‘A.G.’ and TPR Dispositional Hearings

On June 15, 2023, the U.S. Supreme Court critically upheld the constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) in a 7-2 decision written by Justice Amy Coney Barrett, in Haaland v. Brackeen.1

Indian community members, advocacy groups, and family law practitioners awaited the decision with bated breath since oral arguments concluded on Nov. 9, 2022.

The Haaland decision validates and protects adoption practices that preserve the heritage of Indian children. This decision further solidifies the relationship between
Continue Reading Implications of Haaland and the Indian Child Welfare Act

The Tailored Dispositional Orders Project is led by the Children’s Court Improvement Program (CCIP) and the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

The CHIPS Tailored Dispositional Project was piloted in three counties during 2021-22. The project is now being expanded statewide to counties that are interested in improving their CHIPS and Youth Justice conditions.

Counties participating in the project have seen a reduction in the number of conditions, language that is easier for parents and youth to understand, and
Continue Reading Improving CHIPS and Youth Justice Conditions through the Tailored Dispositional Orders Project

Guardians ad litem (GAL) ​​are tasked with the unique role of representing a child’s wishes and their best interest. Everything a GAL does is to ensure that children have safe environments to grow up in and the most meaningful relationships possible with their families.

It is important that GALs understand the impact a child with disabilities has on their family, so they can effectively be an advocate for the child.

Every professional who works within and around the child
Continue Reading Unveiling the Gaps: Improving Our Advocacy for Disabled Children

Transgender children and their families are under attack. In the last two years, politicians and lawmakers have sought to limit transgender youth from accessing health care, education, and other basic rights.

Through a campaign of moral outrage based on misleading, incorrect, and at times outright fabricated information, state legislators have introduced at least 306 bills from 2020 to 2022 that target the trans community. Most concerning, the majority of these laws, 86%, center on transgender youth.1

Transgender youth
Continue Reading Gender-affirming Care Is Not Child Abuse

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On May 14, 2019,
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced the creation of the Speaker’s Task Force on Adoption, charged with addressing the barriers faced by biological and adoptive parents in the adoption process. On Oct. 3, 2019, the task force
published an interim report – and proposed
numerous bills in the 2019-20 legislative cycle.  One of the task force’s recommendations was to eliminate jury trials in the fact-finding portion of the adoption process.
Wisconsin Assembly Bill 628
Continue Reading For Efficiency’s Sake: Should Jury Trials be Eliminated in Involuntary TPR Actions?

The primary goal of Wis. Stat. chapter 48 is to protect children and to preserve families, whenever appropriate. When this cannot be done, “instability and impermanence in family relationships are contrary to the welfare of children and … [there is] importance of eliminating the need for children to wait unreasonable periods of time for their parents to correct the conditions that prevent their safe return to the family.“1

As practitioners, one simple way we can ensure children achieve
Continue Reading No Contest Pleas to Grounds in TPR Cases: A Practical Guide


I have practiced children’s law for a very long time. In the beginning of my career, I was a social worker and employed in the delinquency, CHIPS, and family arenas in the court system. During and after law school, I remained entrenched in the court system, working for the district attorney’s office prosecuting delinquency and CHIPS cases, and the Public Defender’s Office as advocate counsel for criminal, chapter 51, CHIPS, TPR, and guardianship cases. Over the past two
Continue Reading Transitioning CHIPS Children to Adult Guardianship

Across the U.S., 2,529,000 children were raised in kinship care from 2020 through September 2022, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. In Wisconsin, there were approximately 32,000 children in kinship care during this time frame. This data includes in its definition of kinship care children who are cared for full time by blood relatives or other adults with whom they have a family-like relationship, such as godparents or close family friends. Most children are raised by kin
Continue Reading Fictive Kin and Guardianship: Acknowledging Emotionally Significant Relationships with Children

​In the past few years, there has been a reckoning nationwide as to the history of racial injustice and its continued effects on people of color. The murder of George Floyd and countless other Black people by police has reinvigorated a national discussion of racial injustice in the U.S.

One only needs to observe one day in a Wisconsin courtroom to see racial disparity in stark reality. As a youth defense attorney in northeast Wisconsin for the past nine
Continue Reading We Need to Recognize the Implicit Bias in Wisconsin’s Youth Justice System

Youth justice advocates have been on a rollercoaster the past several years, waiting to see if the promised changes to juvenile correctional facilities, such as closing Lincoln Hills/Copper Lake and opening one or more new facilities, will happen. While the number of children being held at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake has declined, there are still troubling issues with the facilities, including staffing shortages and the fact that most of the children are hours away from their
Continue Reading Youth Justice Reform: Progress in Replacing Lincoln Hills is Much-Needed Step Forward

The sudden emergence of the COVID-19 virus in early 2020 left families around the world with questions about how to best protect themselves. The development and ultimate approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for children  has created an additional layer of uncertainty for many families when they do not agree on whether to vaccinate their children against COVID. This decision implicates the joint legal custody decisions, since it involves medical decision-making for the child. In Wisconsin In Wisconsin, when parents
Continue Reading Vaccines for Children and the Role of the GAL