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Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Approaches to Addressing Ethical Challenges of Vulnerable Populations: Focus on Foster Care and the Disabled

Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Approaches to Addressing Ethical Challenges of Vulnerable Populations: Focus on Foster Care and the Disabled (Program)

JoNel Newman, University of Miami School of Law (US) (Co-Moderator); Melissa Swain, University of Miami School of Law (US); Andrew Levin, Columbia University Medical Center (US); Bernard Perlmutter, University of Miami School of Law Children & Youth Law Clinic (US); and Anthony Roberson, University of Miami School of Nursing and Health Studies (US) (Co-Moderator)

Interdisciplinary and Collaborative Approaches to Addressing Ethical Challenges of Vulnerable Populations: Focus on Foster Care and the Disabled


JoNel Newman/Melissa Swain/Andrew Levin: Ethical Dilemmas in Representing Vulnerable Populations and Coping with Secondary Trauma Exposure 

Specific ethical problems arise in the representation of vulnerable clients and an interdisciplinary approach that incorporates studies and practices from behavioral health and the social sciences can be helpful in addressing these issues. Panelists will discuss how implicit biases can lead to discriminatory behavior and corrupt outcomes in a legal context. Mindfulness and cross-cultural lawyering strategies to counteract the impact of implicit bias will be discussed. In the context of clients who are under a disability, lawyers are often charged with determining for themselves a client’s mental capacity, competency and state of mind. Some use psychiatric tools such as the mini mental status exam, despite having no training in these fields. Others presume that the client is competent and that they should zealously advocate for a client’s goals even when those legal choices and decisions are contrary to the client’s best interests. Still others engage in highly paternalistic lawyering. We will discuss the strategic use of language and client narrative to empower disabled clients. Panelists will also discuss the representation of trauma survivors and how the lawyer’s duties of loyalty and confidentiality may be complicated by working with their mental health professionals, and the importance of minimizing the re-victimization of clients. Attorneys must also be prepared for the possibility of vicarious trauma. Attorneys may be particularly vulnerable to secondary trauma because of their long work hours and greater contact with clients with trauma exposure. The presentation will offer suggestions for minimizing the effects of secondary trauma. 

Bernard Perlmutter/Anthony Roberson: Interdisciplinary Academic-Community Collaborations to Achieve Ethic of Care in Dependency-Foster Care Court Proceedings 

This program will highlight the interdisciplinary collaboration for a child welfare conference uniting academics and community agencies to address various ethical challenges and considerations related to the foster care-dependency court system. The conference forum was guided by the principles of Therapeutic Jurisprudence and organized by the University of Miami, School of Law, School of Nursing and Health Studies, and the Miami-Dade Community Based Care Alliance. The disciplines included, but were not limited to law (attorneys and judges), nursing, case management, child service investigation, education (law, nursing, and local school board), and psychology. All sessions were conducted with a high degree of interactivity in an effort to elevate child welfare practice among frontline staff members to the ideals and principles of Therapeutic Jurisprudence.  The specific child court topics presented upon included domestic violence, mental health, trauma in child welfare cases, and coordinated community responses in the context of Therapeutic Jurisprudence. Presenters included local community experts from the Department of Children and Families, Dependency Drug Court, Miami-Dade County Coordinated Victim Assistance Center, former Child Welfare Prosecutors, former foster youth, and the University of Miami, among others. We believe that this conference approach could be a model for future collaboration among disciplines to effectively address the many challenges related to foster care-dependency court ethics and improve outcomes for children and families whose lives are affected by the foster care-dependency court system.