Teaching lawyers learn to connect with kids

October 20, 2011

By Tim Belter ’13

In divorce cases, disputes between the two spouses can lead to a child being lost in the shuffle. In those cases, a special attorney called the guardian ad litem steps in on behalf of the child to help determine custody in the child’s best interests. This is a difficult job and most attorneys aren’t trained to deal with children, to understand their needs or to understand the way they communicate.

In order to prepare attorneys for this tough but important task, Bradley University’s office of Continuing Education and alumna Judge Jerelyn Maher ‘74 of the Tenth Judicial Circuit of Illinois hosted a professional development workshop on September 29 and 30. Held in the Michel Student Center, the workshop included lectures and activities presented by attorneys, judges and Bradley University professors, including Dr. Helja Antola Crowe, Dr. Kevin Randall and Dr. Lori Russell-Chapin.

“It’s important for attorneys to know what a typical child and his or her development are like,” said Dr. Antola Crowe. “We’re focused on a child’s safety and well-being, not just at that moment but for his or her entire life.”

The workshop focused on how to discover what problems or situations might be occurring in a child’s life. They were also taught how to filter out the disputes the parents might be having and focus on what was best for the child and what could be learned from the child.

“One parent might be working against the other and trying to plant false stories,” said Dr. Antola Crowe.

One activity also focused on how to avoid legalese and jargon and talk to parents in a way they can understand. Dr. Antola Crowe presented a slide with various Finnish words interspersed with the English. She then quizzed them on the slide; the attorneys were able to follow along, but didn’t truly understand it, a situation many of their clients can face.

The workshop was a success and Judge Maher said in a letter to Dr. Antola Crowe that she’s already heard attorneys in her court praising the workshop.

“It’s always nice to get a thank-you letter that starts with ‘Wow!’” said Dr. Antola Crowe.