Understanding the Effects of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Parental Representation in Child Welfare
Understanding the Effects of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Parental Representation in Child Welfare, 119 CHILD & YOUTH SERVS. REV. 105163 (2020) (with Lucas Gerber, Susan Jacobs, Yana Mayevskaya, Yuk Pang, Peter Pecora, and Timothy Ross)
11 Pages Posted: 19 Aug 2020
Date Written: June 12, 2020
In 2019, the largest study of parental representation in family court ever conducted was published which showed that multi-disciplinary representation reduced children’s time in foster care by nearly 4 fewer months during the 48 months following the petition filing, through faster early reunification outcomes, as compared to parents who were represented by solo practitioners. Now, the same researchers sought to understand how the model works in practice through a qualitative interview-based design involving 42 practitioners in the New York City Family Court and 17 parents who had had a recent child protection case in the New York City Family Court. Practitioners included judges, court attorneys, attorneys who represent parents in these cases, attorneys who represent children in these cases, and attorneys for the child welfare agency.
The study revealed four principal qualities of the work performed by the interdisciplinary law offices that help explain the success achieved by these offices in their representation of parents.
Uniform high-quality representation. The interdisciplinary law offices engage in uniformly high-quality representation, as characterized by development of a case theory and legal strategy for adjudication, and advancement of other client objectives and issues that support reunification (e.g., litigation to increase visitation).
Inter-disciplinary representation. A second key factor in the success of the interdisciplinary law office model is that most parents are represented by a lawyer along with a social worker and/or parent advocate. While the legal staff address in-court representation, social work staff support the parent outside the courtroom, including advocating for parents at agency conferences, assisting parents to enroll in court-ordered programs, and otherwise attending to their needs.
Equal attention paid to court appearance and agency meetings. A defining quality of interdisciplinary practice is to have a social worker or parent advocate accompany parents to meetings and conferences with the child welfare agency. This not only meant that parents are never alone at these conferences; the presence of an advocate shifts the dynamic of the conference and ensures that the parent’s voice will be heard.
Careful attention to the parent’s emotional well-being. The final key factor found by the study is the degree to which the interdisciplinary offices pay attention to the client’s emotional well-being throughout the case. Parent advocates, in particular, occupy a unique position, bringing their own personal experience to the parent’s situation. The interviews revealed how often parents felt supported.
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