During the workshop, co-hosted by the Unified Judicial System and the USD Knudson School of Law, child welfare and legal professionals discussed their multidisciplinary roles in the legal proceedings of child welfare cases. More than 100 students and professionals in law, criminal justice and child protection came together to interact and learn from leaders in the field as they outlined best practices for child abuse and neglect cases in South Dakota.

Featured speakers at the event were a blend of legal and advocacy professionals: Neil Fulton, dean of the Knudson School of Law; Justice Scott P. Myren; Chief Justice Steven R. Jensen; Pamela Bennett from the Department of Social Services, Division of Child Protection; Amanda Liebl, Sanford Child’s Voice Child Advocacy Center; Carrie Mees, Minnehaha County State’s Attorney’s office; Nicole Laughlin, Laughlin Law; and Second Judicial Circuit Judge Sandra Hoglund Hanson.

Indicating the importance of child welfare in the state of South Dakota, joining the conference was South Dakota Supreme Court Chief Justice Steven Jensen, an ardent advocate for the importance of family and the equitable use of resources to strengthen them. “It’s important for law students to get a glimpse of what the child abuse system looks like,” Jensen said. “We hope this workshop inspires young lawyers to consider public service. We always have a need for more service, whether it’s volunteers or professionals.”

Susan Smith, CPCM program specialist, said that the workshop is one of several events the CPCM organizes to promote child safety and advocacy. For example, the CPCM works with medical and law enforcement personnel to mitigate victim trauma and to enable investigative teams and courtroom personnel. The Center for the Prevention of Child Maltreatment and the South Dakota Unified Judicial System host monthly Court Improvement Program (CIP) trainings for attorneys, judges and other multidisciplinary professionals working with families involved in these cases.

The goal of these trainings is to provide relevant and up-to-date information on the South Dakota child welfare system, while offering unique approaches and standards for best practices when working with children throughout the court process.

“Our overall goal, with all of these efforts, is to limit the number of people who are suffering from neglect and have to seek out resources,” Smith explained.

“I am optimistic by nature, and I am optimistic about the future,” Jensen said. “Families are the backbone of our communities. Strong families are a change agent. I’m proud of what we do in South Dakota, and I hope people can see it.”
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