Celebration: Reunified families celebrate at the Hall of Justice


– Photos by Cynthia Price

By Cynthia Price

Legal News

A year ago, Michigan Supreme Court Justice Bridget McCormack attended Washtenaw County's inaugural Family Reunification Day and was so impressed she vowed to make the event statewide in 2016. Staff of the Supreme Court and Department of Human Services Children's Service Agency, among others, made it happen.

The June 24 celebration took place on the grounds of the Michigan Supreme Court, and featured a luncheon before judges, reunified family members, and others spoke of struggles to make family life work.

Judge Timothy Connors and Cass County Judge Susan Dobrich called up the mothers of the five families represented to tell of their experiences.

The mothers spoke with pride of as many as 18 years in recovery and gratitude for the court system not giving up on them - "You didn't just give me a second chance, with you, I? had a million chances," said Thereasa McGill. A teenage boy, Chance, provided one of the day's most touching moments as he told of the joy of getting to know his mother Kizzie Hogan as a nurturing and caring woman.

The event, corresponding with the American Bar Association National Reunification Month of June, paid homage to Native American leaders who have worked to overcome national policy that removed Indian children from their homes.

Homer Mandoka, an advocate for child welfare, spoke of the ways in which family reunification reflects the seven grandfather teachings: Love, Respect, Honesty, Bravery, Humility, Truth, and Wisdom. Mandoka is from the Nottawaseppi Huron Band of the Potawatomi as is Judge Melissa Pope, who spoke, recognizing Mandoka's effectiveness as well as the passion of people like Judge Connors.

Judge Pope noted the ongoing work done by Michigan's Tribal State Federal Judicial Forum, originating in the work of former Michigan Supreme Court Justice Michael Cavanagh and Tribal Judge Michael Petoskey.

In 2015, more than half of the 8,000 plus children in foster care were reunited with their families. Reunification is always the goal of the judicial system, and deciding to terminate parental rights is a last resort.

This event celebrated the major efforts courts and the state make to put parents on the path to caring for their own. Such programs include the peer-to-peer modeled Parent Partners Program. Stacie Bladen, DHHS Deputy Director of the Children's Services Agency, noted that expansion of that and other programs to support family reunification was included in Gov. Snyder's 2017 budget.

Justice McCormack said the Supreme Court would like to see individual county courts celebrate Reunification Day as they now do Adoption Day.


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