High-quality legal representation for parents and children in child welfare proceedings has many benefits, including increased parental engagement, more frequent visitation, and better access to services. Most importantly, quality legal representation for families has been shown to reduce the length of time children must spend in foster care — and in some cases, prevent family separation altogether. Evaluations in both Palm Beach, Florida and New York City highlight these benefits.
A recent policy change allows jurisdictions to use federal Title IV-E funds for the cost of legal representation for parents, children, and youth in all stages of child welfare proceedings. As a result, many jurisdictions around the country are exploring how high-quality legal services for parents and children can be used to promote child safety and family well-being. Interdisciplinary approaches involving social workers and parent mentors are the gold standard for high-quality parent representation. Other factors being considered include the timing of representation to include pre-petition representation, support and accountability for attorneys, and the structure of caseloads and compensation.
The Family Justice Initiative (FJI) provides guidance about the attributes of high-quality legal representation for children and parents, as well as several resources to assist child welfare agencies in claiming federal Title IV-E funds for legal representation and locating additional support. The National Alliance for Parent Representation and the National Association of Counsel for Children are leaders in improving representation for parents and children respectively, and both offer resources, training, and technical assistance to the field.