The concept of interdisciplinary team teaching has been explored extensively in theory, but very rarely actually implemented. While actual success in implementation has been mixed, the promise of benefits to instructors, students, and the community remains a strong incentive for a program that implements team teaching in a clinical environment. There is a strong need for students to learn how to work in an interdisciplinary team, especially when a special interest population will be a key beneficiary. Youth in the foster care system or who are at risk of placement therein have a variety of needs that can only be addressed effectively by such a multidisciplinary team.
Hawaiʻi youth are unique in their needs not only because of the island culture, but also as a result of Hawaiʻi's large immigrant population. In addition to the placement, educational, medical, legal, and social needs that youth at risk have, many of the youth in Hawaiʻi also have special needs that arise from their immigrant status, i.e. language services. A multidisciplinary team would be best situated to address the myriad needs that will inevitably arise. Thus, early training for work in a multidisciplinary setting may help professionals better understand how to address foster youth needs and improve later work with youth at risk of foster custody placement.
Since 2006, the Law School has worked with the University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa Schools of Nursing, Social Work, and Education to develop a comprehensive approach to improving the delivery of child welfare services in Honolulu. During the Fall 2006 semester, a team of faculty and students at the Law School collaborated in the planning of an interdisciplinary clinic addressing foster child welfare. The team included Laurie Tochiki, Faye Kimura, Jane Dickson-Ijima, Vanessa Bartsch, Yvonne Geesey, Christine Prepose, and Liam Skilling. Funding for the planning and administration of the course comes from Title IV-E federal funding to support foster care.
In Spring 2007, the course was offered for the first time, listed in the Law School's catalogue as the "Family Law Clinic." Enrollment in the class included eight law students, several of whom had connections to social work, education or health, and one faculty member from the School of Nursing. The clinical placement sites for the students were the Kapi'olani Child Protection Center (KCPC) and Farrington High School. The KCPC is a multidisciplinary team tasked by the Department of Human Services (DHS) to review cases pending before the Family Court. The team reviews professional input about the cases, engages in evaluation of case records, and provides recommendations to DHS. Farrington is Hawaiʻi's largest public school, and in addition to enrolling a significant number of foster children, Farrington's student population includes: special education students, recent immigrants from Micronesia under the Treaty of Free Association, students involved in the juvenile court system, and students from homes in which domestic violence occurs. Both sites found the law students highly motivated and helpful, and welcomed the placement of students in the future.
Student team projects were determined by community need and student interest. After conducting their own research, one team at Farrington created a presentation for high school students on the topic of street law; another group worked with the school administration to create protocols for staff handling allegations of partner violence among the Farrington students. The group at KCPC conducted a mock trial to help the KCPC multidisciplinary team understand the Family Court process and how their recommendation would be used.
For the Spring 2008 semester, faculty from the School of Nursing, College of Education, School of Social work, and the Law School collaborated on designing the academic and community project parameters. The course, now called the Child Welfare Clinic, has received the approval of the Law School's faculty for inclusion as a new offering in the next University of Hawaiʻi course catalog.
Students involved in the Clinic will learn the importance and process of interdisciplinary cooperation and collaboration. The involvement of students and lecturers in various departments throughout the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa will foster a greater understanding among the various disciplines working together in the child welfare system. This project will stress to students the importance of community involvement and help students to understand the stake these individuals have in the outcomes. The Clinic is designed to be more than a semester-long course and promises to infuse a sense of cooperation, responsibility, and understanding in participants at every level.