Family Court Projects
The Child Welfare Law Project helps to develop and maintain projects and programs that improve outcomes for children involved in Hawaii child welfare cases and that also meet state and federal legal requirements. The Project operates as a collaboration with the court, Department of Human Services, and other child welfare system stakeholders. Law student volunteers, graduate assistants, and staff assist with these initiatives. Highlights of the Project include the following:
Preparing Law Students for Representing Parents
The Children’s Bureau identified quality legal representation of parents and children as a priority for child welfare systems; therefore, a Child Welfare Externship for 2L and 3L students on child welfare law and the interdisciplinary aspects of practicing in this field, was developed to encourage interest in and prepare law students to competently represent parents in child welfare court proceedings. Students are individually mentored by current parent counsel, observe pertinent court hearings, represent parents under supervision of their attorney mentors, practice trial skills, and attend weekly group meetings to learn from professionals who serve families in child welfare cases.
Increasing Access to and Quality of Court Process
Ho‘olokahi Program Parent Facilitators, trained and staffed by the Project, provide an orientation on the court process to indigent parents and other legal caretakers whose children are the subjects of child welfare cases. Orientations are held before the first court hearing attended by a parent or caretaker. Law students and graduate students in social work are encouraged to participate in this program as neutral facilitators.
The O‘ahu Child Welfare Mediation Program (OCWMP) is a court-based mediation program for Child Protective Act cases. In the last two years (2020–22), the program realized an average settlement rate of 69%. The Project reports on program outcomes and implements improvements recommended by the court and stakeholders.
Project staff assist with court hearing observations and data collection using a tool developed in consultation with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ). Project staff also provide research and drafting support to periodic revisions of the Child Protective Act Bench Book for judges.
Improving Outcomes for Foster Youth
An Education Collaborative composed of Department of Human Services, Department of Education, guardians ad litem, and the Court strives to ensure the educational stability of youth in foster care. Through the Educational and Training Vouchers program and the Imua Kakou Extended Foster Care Program Project staff provide support to hundreds of foster care alumni each year.
Project staff assist stakeholders by reviewing case plans, transition plans for youth, drafting agency procedures and administrative rules, and ensuring that youth receive vital documents before leaving foster care.
The Project supports several events that support youth in foster care, including O‘ahu Teen Days (a biannual event for youth to learn about available resources and court hearings) and the ‘Ohana is Forever Conference (an annual event focused on the well-being of youth in foster care). In addition, the Annual Child Welfare Law Update Conference is held for legal and child welfare professionals to learn about statutory changes and appellate decisions; Judiciary and executive branch child welfare initiatives, accomplishments, and plans for the coming year; and subjects that enhance knowledge and professionalism in child welfare law practice.