Effects of a Multidisciplinary Approach to Parent Legal Representation in Child Welfare
*Names in bold indicate Presenter
Using a mixed-method evaluation design of New York City’s parent representation program, this study adds to the developing literature about the effects of parent representation in child welfare on outcomes for children and families. In 2007, New York City contracted with three non-profit organizations to hire and train multidisciplinary teams of lawyers, social workers and parent advocates to represent parents charged in child abuse or neglect cases. Prior to 2007, the family court assigned indigent parents a lawyer from a panel of pre-qualified attorneys. Unlike the panel attorneys, who operate as solo practitioners, each non-profit provider offers parents who are eligible for court-appointed counsel the support of a multidisciplinary team that typically consisting of a lawyer, a social worker, and a parent advocate. Program stakeholders posit that this multidisciplinary team model of representation, through advocacy in and out of court, increases stable and safe reunification, shortens lengths of stay in foster care, and often avoids foster care placements entirely. Because both models of parent representation operate concurrently, the study compares the outcomes of similar cases—which received either the panel or the multidisciplinary approach—using propensity score matching. Specifically, the study assesses whether or not children whose parents are respondents in child abuse or neglect petitions filed in the New York City Family Court and are eligible for court-assigned counsel are more likely to be quickly, safely, and permanently kept together with their birth families if their parents are represented by multidisciplinary attorney team compared to children of similar families whose parents are represented by panel attorneys. Qualitative interviews were also conducted with attorneys and court personnel, as well as with parents who experienced a case in the New York City Family Court.