Study of parent legal representation in New York City

A new study supports the recent federal rule change that parent legal representation services can be partially reimbursed by Title IV-E funding. The study showed that children can be safely returned to their families significantly sooner by employing the right kind of legal representation for their parents.

Researchers from New York University, Action Research and Casey Family Programs compared the outcomes of cases involving more than 18,000 children in which child abuse or neglect was alleged, when New York City began contracting with holistic family defense offices to provide parents with representation starting in 2007.

Like most jurisdictions in the United States, New York exclusively appointed solo practicing lawyers to represent parents from a rotating panel of lawyers. But New York also uses a re-imagined legal representation team that includes lawyers, social workers and parent advocates. The study compared the outcomes of cases based on which type of legal representation the parents received.

Providing parents with family defense teams allowed children to be reunified with their birth family more than twice as often in the first year of a case, and 67 percent more often in the second year. Of children who could not be returned to families, 40 percent more children ended up with a permanent disposition of guardianship when parents had multidisciplinary representation than children whose parents were represented by panel lawyers. The right kind of representation and support services can make a huge difference in achieving permanency.

Even while the family defense offices helped parents regain the custody of their children months sooner, children were at no greater risk of any type of abuse or neglect than counterparts whose parents were represented by solo attorneys. This means that providing the parents an interdisciplinary legal team reduces the trauma of family separation without any increased risk to child safety.

Read the full study, “Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare