UMKC Law Child and Family Services Clinic

Students in the UMKC Child and Family Services Clinic represent parents, relatives and custodians needing help to obtain court order to provide permanent homes for children who are victims of abuse or neglect.

When a child is found to be abused or neglected and are removed from the offending parent, courts would prefer to place a child with a caregiver the child knows. This could be the other parent, a grandparent or other relative, or even a family friend who is willing to provide the child a safe and stable home. If a child cannot be reunited with their parent, usually the best option for that child would be to remain with this caregiver. However the adults who are providing these children the security of a home and care often have no legal right to have custody of the child. So the children, and these caregivers, remain under the jurisdiction of the court until someone can help these caregivers to obtain the legal orders they need. Students representing these client gain experience in a range of legal actions. 

The most common caregiver that the clinic assists is actually a child’s father. For example, because of a mother’s illness, addiction, or other unresolved problems, a court may determine that reuniting the child with the mother is not in the child’s best interests. Dad, however, may be ready, willing, and able to care for the child, but may not have custody — either because he has never had a paternity determination or because, in a prior custody action, mother was given custody. Students in the clinic work with Dad to establish paternity and obtain legal custody.

Grandparents are often the family members who step in to care for a child when the parents are unfit, unwilling, or unable to do so. In fact, nearly 20,000 children in Missouri are living with a grandparent with no parents present in the home. Without a legal guardianship to transfer authority to these grandparents, they cannot enroll their grandchildren in school, consent to their medical care, or otherwise exercise the authority they need to properly care for their grandchildren. About one quarter of the clinic’s cases involve establishing guardianship for grandparents or other relatives.

Last year, over 5,600 children in Missouri were found to be abused or neglected or at sufficient risk of abuse or neglect to merit services from the state. In Jackson County, Missouri alone last year, nearly 900 children were removed from their homes. There are insufficient state funds to provide legal services for these children and their care givers. Without legal assistance, the legal status of these children, many of whom are in foster care, can often remain unsettled for years. The impact on these children lasts a lifetime.