October 20, 2005
Vol. 25 No. 3

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    Buss examining laws connected to foster care

    By Kim Dixon
    News Office

    When young adults leave foster care they are much more likely to become jobless, homeless, incarcerated or pregnant than young adults who grew up under the care of their birth parents.

    Less well understood is the role the legal process plays in affecting these outcomes, making it a ripe research topic for Emily Buss, Professor and the Kanter Director of Chicago Policy Initiatives in the Law School.

    A two-year project led by Buss will focus on the legal mechanisms in which decisions are made for adolescents in foster care, most of whom are in the child welfare system because of parental abuse or neglect.

    “We’re trying to figure out how the law helps and how it gets in the way,” said Buss, who also has represented foster children as an attorney at the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau and then as Deputy Director of the Juvenile Law Center in Philadelphia.

    In addition to traditional legal research focused on the law’s treatment of adolescents in and out of the child welfare system, Buss and a number of law students are conducting extensive interviews of personnel involved in the relevant court hearings. The project also will sponsor a daylong workshop in February that will involve policy-makers, scholars, judges and former foster wards. The workshop will focus on opportunities for legal reform that could improve outcomes for foster care youth who age out of the system.

    In related work, Buss is writing a book that recounts the experiences of some of the Law School’s Mandel Legal Aid Clinic clients who have been involved in both the child welfare and juvenile justice systems at the same time. This “dual involvement” is a particular problem for adolescents in foster care, Buss said, who do not have parents who can step forward and persuade the court that further juvenile justice involvement is neither necessary, nor in the minor’s interests.

    In the end, Buss hopes to inspire policy reforms that “will bring our treatment of foster care wards more in line with how we treat adolescents and young adults who grow up with their parents.”