Spring/Summer 2018

Beautiful detail image of windows on the Hutchins hall building at the University of Michigan

Child Welfare Appellate Clinic Drafts New Legislation

Clinical Professor Vivek Sankaran, ’01, director of Michigan Law’s Child Welfare Appellate Clinic, and his student-attorneys were helping a mother regain custody of her young son after a neighbor found him wandering outside early one Saturday. 

By Monday morning, Child Protective Services (CPS), in accordance with Michigan law, had removed the 3-year-old from his home. 

The law stipulated that because his mother, Michelle Gach, had a prior termination of parental rights on her record, CPS could permanently terminate her rights for any subsequent violation. Gach had no recourse—or so she thought.

After carefully reviewing their client’s case, Sankaran and his students determined that the previous termination of Gach’s parental rights had been due to her former husband’s actions—not hers. 

His behavior years earlier was resulting in her current custody loss, which was patently unfair. 

Under Sankaran’s direction, Shannon Seiferth, ’16, and her clinic partner, Rory Pulvino, ’15, who were assigned to the case, wrote the brief that they argued before the Michigan Court of Appeals. 

The panel ruled in their favor, reuniting Gach and her child.

CPS falls under the umbrella of the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS)—which is historically overloaded and understaffed due to budget constraints, Sankaran noted. As a result of the case, DHHS officials agreed that the current law was flawed, and offered to work with Sankaran and his students to craft language amending it. 

Senator Rick Jones introduced SB 421 to amend 1982 PA 250, which Gov. Rick Snyder, ’82, signed into law in March. It took effect on June 12.—KD