Spring 2014

Attorneys Making a Difference:
Featuring Shayla Blankenship
by Stephanie Cardenas
   Three years ago, Genesee County realized it needed to make a change regarding how its juvenile docket worked. Attorneys were not present for preliminary hearings or family team meetings. Substitutions of counsel were prevalent occurrences due to how the hearings were scheduled. The county requested ideas in an effort to improve the system.
    A new idea implemented over the past two years currently allows contracted attorneys to create their own legal teams to represent each respondent parent in a child welfare proceeding. Shayla Blankenship is the lead attorney for one of the parental teams. She has created the “Advocacy Team for Indigent Fathers (“ATIF”). Ms. Blankenship and the attorneys that comprise her team specifically represent fathers in abuse and neglect cases.
    There are five judges in Genesee County that handle juvenile cases. One attorney from ATIF is appointed to each judge. Ms. Blankenship handles the representation of all fathers in front of Judge Kay Behm. Ms. Blankenship requires all attorneys on her team to attend every hearing, including the preliminary hearing, and all family team meetings. The scheduling for the hearings is decided by all parties in the case. Substitutions of counsel are now a rare occurrence.
    In the past two years, Ms. Blankenship has seen a drastic improvement to the juvenile system in Genesee County. She has observed a decrease in petitions that are authorized by the court because parties are being adequately represented. The parents are more engaged in their cases because they know their attorney and feel like they are now a part of the process. There has also been a reduction in termination of parental rights cases and a decrease in children entering and/or remaining in foster care.
   Ms. Blankenship is happy with the changes that she has observed and she believes the changes have been positive for all parties involved. She loves to see a family reunified after overcoming barriers such as mental problems or drug addiction- problems that seem insurmountable at the time. In her words: “parents want to parent, they just sometimes need help.” In Genesee County they have Ms. Blankenship to help them. By representing only fathers she can identify and specialize in the needs and resources available to fathers. She is devoted to making sure her clients get the services they need and does it because “when the system works, then it works really, really well.”
    Shayla Blankenship has been a licensed attorney in Michigan since 2002. She is a board member of the Center for Juvenile Justice, executive member of the American Inns of Court, Vice-President elect of the Genesee County Bar Association, former Chair of the Family Law Committee of the Genesee County Bar Association and is still an active member. Shayla is a member of the State Bar of Michigan Domestic Violence Committee, the State Bar of Michigan Children’s Law Committee, and the Representative Assembly of the State Bar of Michigan. She is state and nationally trained in domestic violence and is a frequent classroom lecturer on domestic violence issues. She obviously doesn’t have a lot of spare time and any time she has, she spends with her wife and two children. She makes it a goal to be home at night to put her six year old and eleven-month old to bed at night.
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