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The Rights Of Children Are Focus Of Bar Association Conference At HLS

Publication Date: 
April 19, 2007
Harvard University Gazette Online
Corydon Ireland

During a three-day event Harvard Law School hosted the American Bar Association’s 12th annual conference on children and the law within the framework of the school's Child Advocacy Program. Six hundred of the most important child advocacy lawyers gathered to talk about the as yet "unmet needs" of "troubled children". Professor Michael S. Wald was there and Corydon Ireland quotes him in this article:

Stanford law professor Michael Wald allowed there were “real pockets of excellence,” but warned that representation for most abused and neglected children is still “woefully lacking.”

In the 1960s, an annual caseload of 100,000 would be typical, he said in an April 15 final conference panel. But today, 5.6 million cases are referred to agencies and courts every year: 8 percent of all U.S. children.

Only 1 percent of cases are substantiated, but as many as 15 percent are substantiated over time, said Wald — and all the cases, by the act of referral alone, "lead to trauma."

Rates of abuse in high-poverty counties are three times the national average, and involve "heavily, heavily" large numbers of children 1 year old or younger, he said. "We can predict a child’s life by the ZIP code."

Emerging from this population are youngsters with significant emotional, cognitive, and social deficits, said Wald — and the system misses many more. Fewer than 40 percent of abused children get the help they need, he said.

Meanwhile, prevention efforts are lagging; billions of dollars in social research "have not produced a lot of knowledge"; legislation is weak; and litigation does not work, with court cases often dragging on for years while children are in limbo, said Wald.

Not just welfare agencies and the courts are failing children, he said. So are schools and systems for juvenile health, job training, and mental health. "Child protective advocates have to become part of a larger social movement" of the kind that has coalesced around the environment, special education, and gay rights, said Wald, "pushing daily, daily, daily (to save) the worst-treated."