PUBLISHED:August 28, 2023

National conference informs students’ desire to change child welfare law


Two Duke Law students heard from legal practitioners on the frontlines of protecting children’s and parent’s rights and leading transformative change.

Rebecca Magid '25 and Cara Shanahan '25
Rebecca Magid '25 and Cara Shanahan '25

Recently, Cara Shanahan ’25 and Rebecca Magid ’25 were able to attend the 46th National Child Welfare Law Conference (NACC) held in Minneapolis, with support from the Office of Public Interest and Pro Bono at Duke Law. The experience deepened their understanding of America’s child welfare system and ongoing efforts for systemic and transformative change.

From August 10-12, Magid and Shanahan heard from experts and advocates in children welfare law, policy, and advocacy on various topics, including dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline, preventing legal deserts in rural communities, and the impact of recent U.S. Supreme Court rulings on children’s rights. “This conference has already taught us so much,” the students, who are members of the Duke Child Welfare Law and Policy Society, told Associate Dean of Public Interest and Pro Bono Stella Boswell.

Shanahan said, “Attending the NACC enriched my understanding of our child welfare system’s state of disrepair. I am deeply grateful to have connected with individuals of various perspectives, including foster parents and former foster children, birth parents whose parental rights have been terminated, lawyers, social workers, and judges.”

Magid said, “I really appreciated how the conference highlighted systemic racism in the child welfare/family regulation system and the harms this system has caused to families. I am grateful to the experts and advocates in this field who shed light on the way this system operates within American society.”

Shanahan was moved by a session on adoption, indigenous rights, and the Indian Child Welfare Act led by author Sandy White Hawk, a Sicangu Lakota adoptee and recognized expert on adoption and child welfare law. Of note, Hawk’s remarks came in the wake of the Supreme Court’s recent 7-2 decision in Haaland v. Brackeen, rejecting all the constitutional challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act.

“I particularly appreciated learning about this country’s legacy of systematic Indigenous family separation and the current legal challenges to the Indian Child Welfare Act,” Shanahan said. “Sandy White Hawk's poignant discussion on her book, A Child of the Indian Race: A Story of Return crystallized my commitment to advocating for the rights of children and parents traumatized by a broken system.”

Here at Duke Law, Associate Clinical Professor Crystal Grant, the director of the Duke Children’s Law Clinic, said it’s rewarding to hear about the students’ experience as the nation’s child welfare system is facing change—adding that “the transition is long overdue.”

“This conference brought together the system actors at the forefront of equity and justice in the context of family integrity. I am proud that Duke law students participated in this event and strive to be leaders in this pivotal movement,” Grant said.

46th National Child Welfare Law Conference
46th National Child Welfare Law Conference in Minneapolis