The justice system is no place for a child.
Molly Jasmer, an attorney in the Waukesha County Corporation Counsel office, is trying to change that.
“Our adversarial system doesn’t work well for kids, so you have to pay attention to the effect that the system is having on the children,” said Jasmer, whose work focuses on Children in Need of Protection as well as Termination of Parental Rights cases.
Children enter the system because their parents have problems, she said, but the process puts parents on the defensive. They feel like they have to defend themselves against the allegations rather than focusing on drug treatment or anger management that will help them get better, Jasmer said.
“Here in Waukesha, we try to engage the parents,” she said. “We try not to make it a blame game.”
But the system also affects the children, Jasmer said, and it’s important to measure those effects and pass the knowledge on to others. To that end, she serves on the Commission on Families, Children and the Courts.
She said the commission does good work spreading the word about how children respond to out-of-home placement, or how they heal from child abuse and neglect. Distributing that information is important, Jasmer said, particularly when it runs contrary to popular beliefs.
For example, when a child has been removed from a home and parents are not making significant progress with drug, alcohol, or anger management, the common response is to reduce visitation between the parents and child.
But research shows that letting parents maintain regular, meaningful contact with their children, rather than cutting back on contact, leads to a quicker resolution, Jasmer said.
After law school, Jasmer went into the public defender’s office in Racine. She was assigned to juvenile court representing delinquents, and that’s where she saw the challenges kids face in the system.
“You understand that some of these parents have significant issues and have been through trauma themselves,” Jasmer said, “so you start to understand why they have struggles as parents.”
That’s when her interest in child protection started. She left the public defender’s office and went into private practice until the job in Waukesha opened up.
She said she considers her 10 years in the office as a success but acknowledges it can be emotionally draining when cases involve children in difficult situations.
“There aren’t any winners,” Jasmer said. “We get the kids in better situations, but you get to see what they have experienced already, which is hard.”