When Tanner Kilander was around the age of 5 or 6, a little girl in her class was put into foster care.
You could forgive Kilander for not knowing before then that other kids were growing up in unstable households, and could be subject to abuse and neglect.
But it was that little girl’s circumstances that opened her eyes.
“I remember thinking how scary that was,” Kilander said.
It was around that age when Kilander decided to become a social worker. Now a lawyer running her own private practice, Kilander Legal Services, she still works with families who are at risk of being pulled apart.
Kilander started down the path of law during the couple of years she spent at an agency now known as the bureau of Milwaukee Child Welfare. Even though she knew the work she was doing there was needed, Kilander couldn’t help feeling powerless. Hence her interest in law school: She saw it as a way to do more to help families stay together.
After graduation, she started representing parents in child-protective cases.
“I really enjoy working with families,” she said. “A lot of the parents really have a lot to offer their families, and I feel we gloss over that sometimes.”
Her switch to private practice came in 2005, when she began representing parents in Child in Need of Protection or Services, or CHIPS, cases. That all changed, though, about six years later, when she found herself in need of health insurance for her family. Kilander began working in the State Public Defender’s office.
It was only with the federal government’s adoption of the Affordable Care Act that Kilander was able to return to private practice. She has now been running Kilander Legal Services for the past year and a half.
Her return to private practice has enabled her to spend more time with her children —daughters who are now 6, 12 and 14 years — and open her to home to foster children. Kilander became a foster parent even while she was attending law school at Marquette.
“I was not doing well separating from the kids I worked with (as a social worker), so I got a foster care license and took in a couple kids,” she said.
Her family is one of the main reasons she prefers having a private practice. Not having a boss means she has more time to spend with her children.
Also satisfying is the ability her practice gives her to help parents on the “front end” of CHIPS cases. Too often, Kilander said, cases of this sort run for a year or two without anyone representing parents’ interests. By that point, the cases too often have already become “tooth-and-nail fights,” Kilander said.
Working by herself, Kilander can adjust her workload to accommodate whatever family obligations she might have at a given time. Right now, she said, she has plenty to keep her going.
“Life is very busy for me,” she said, “and I don’t mind that.”