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Understanding the Effects of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Parental Representation in Child Welfare

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Prior research demonstrates that the interdisciplinary law office approach to parental representation in child welfare, used in the New York City Family Court, speeds up the time to permanency for children in foster care with no effect on child safety. Interrogating these findings further, this study utilizes a qualitative interview-based design to understand how the model works in practice to impact the outcomes of families’ cases. We interviewed 42 practitioners in the New York City Family Court and 16 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. Based on our analysis of these interviews, we identify three elements critical to the success of the interdisciplinary law office case practice approach: [1] uniform high-quality representation, [2] interdisciplinary practice, and [3] paying attention to the client’s well-being. These results shed light on why interdisciplinary law office parental representation effectively hastens reunification for children in foster care as compared to a solo practitioner attorney.
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Children and Youth Services Review
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Understanding the eects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental
representation in child welfare
Lucas A. Gerber
, Martin Guggenheim
, Yuk C. Pang
, Timothy Ross
, Yana Mayevskaya
Susan Jacobs
, Peter J. Pecora
Action Research, 132 32nd Street, Suite 110, Brooklyn, NY 11232, United States
Fiorello LaGuardia, Professor of Clinical Law, New York University, School of Law, 245 Sullivan St. Room 620, New York, NY, United States
Independent Consultant, United States
Managing Director of Research Services, Casey Family Programs, and Professor, School of Social Work, University of Washington, 2001 8th Avenue, Suite 2700, Seattle,
WA, 98121, United States
Juvenile court
Parentsright to counsel
Family reunication
Family preservation
Prior research demonstrates that the interdisciplinary law oce approach to parental representation in child
welfare, used in the New York City Family Court, speeds up the time to permanency for children in foster care
with no eect on child safety. Interrogating these ndings further, this study utilizes a qualitative interview-
based design to understand how the model works in practice to impact the outcomes of familiescases. We
interviewed 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. Based on our analysis of these interviews, we identify three elements critical to the success of the
interdisciplinary law oce case practice approach: [1] uniform high-quality representation, [2] interdisciplinary
practice, and [3] paying attention to the clients well-being. These results shed light on why interdisciplinary law
oce parental representation eectively hastens reunication for children in foster care as compared to a solo
practitioner attorney.
1. Introduction
With the paradigm in child welfare policy in the U.S. shifting to one
of prevention of foster care through the Family First Prevention
Services Act of 2018, calls for high quality parental representation in
child welfare cases have risen to the national policy agenda. At the end
of 2018, the U.S. DHHS amended the Child Welfare Policy Manual to
allow state child welfare agencies operating pursuant to Title IV-E of
the Social Security Act to seek reimbursement from the federal gov-
ernment for administrative costs for attorneys to provide legal re-
presentation to parents and children in child welfare cases. A year
earlier, the same agency released a memo encouraging child welfare
agencies and courts to ensure all parties within child welfare proceed-
ings receive high quality legal representation (Administration on
Children, Youth, and Families, 2017). The American Bar Association, in
particular, has led the movement for high quality legal representation
for parents in child welfare cases through the National Alliance for
Parent Representation and the Family Justice Initiative (ABA National
Project to Improve Representation for Parents, 2017; Heimov, Laver, &
Carr, 2017).
With the renewed urgency to provide improved parental re-
presentation in child welfare cases, stakeholders and researchers have
increasingly asked: what kind of representation should be provided to
parents? Two landmark studies completed in Washington and New
York have identied elements of improved parental representation that
sped up childrens time to permanency (Courtney & Hook, 2012; Gerber
et al., 2019). This study focuses on the model of parental representation
studied in New York called Interdisciplinary Law Oces(ILOs) or
multidisciplinary oces. The New York study compared the out-
comes of child welfare cases in which parents were represented by
lawyers who are members of the court-assigned panel and work as solo
practitioners on their cases, with cases in which parents were re-
presented by lawyers from the ILOs. Using a quasi-experimental design,
the study concluded that ILOs hastened reunication for children in
foster care, with no changes in child maltreatment rates.
This article follows up on the original New York study to provide
Received 24 March 2020; Received in revised form 8 June 2020; Accepted 9 June 2020
Corresponding author.
E-mail addresses: (L.A. Gerber), (M. Guggenheim), (P.J. Pecora).
Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
Available online 12 June 2020
0190-7409/ © 2020 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license
deeper qualitative insight into how the ILO model works and why the
ILO model improves reunication outcomes. We conducted nearly 60
interviews with key actors in the New York City Family Court child
welfare system, including parents, lawyers, and judges, among others.
In doing so, we sought to explain how ILOs speed up reunication for
children in foster care. Understanding these mechanisms will provide
policymakers with the tools to assess what core components may make
the ILOs successful and whether ILOs would have similar impacts in a
particular jurisdiction.
2. The ILO model in context
Starting in 2007, the New York City MayorsOce of Criminal
Justice, the oce responsible for payment of legal services for indigent
parents in Family Court proceedings, entered into contracts with three
nonprot organizations to provide interdisciplinary legal defense for
parents in Family Court. These organizations are the Center for Family
Representation, the Family Defense Practice of Brooklyn Defender
Services (formerly of Legal Services New York City), and the Bronx
Defenders. We refer to these oces collectively as Interdisciplinary
Law Oces(ILOs), or multidisciplinary ocesor, simply, oces.
By the end of 2019, these oces, and a fourth oce that was not part of
this study, provide a substantial majority of the legal representation for
parents facing child maltreatment petitions in the New York City Family
Court. Panel attorneys, also known as 18-B attorneysafter the section
of New York County Law that describes their function, represent the
remaining parents. Panel attorneys are highly experienced private
practitioners who successfully applied and were appointed to the panel.
In contrast to the ILOs, panel attorneys manage their own practices
individually and do not have interdisciplinary teams by default. The
description of the ILO model below draws heavily on the original out-
come evaluation of the model (Gerber et al., 2019).
These oces employ an interdisciplinary and holistic case practice
approach when representing parents, in contrast with the panel at-
torney model it replaced. In addition to staattorneys who appear in
court and only represent parents in child welfare cases, these three
oces employ social workers, parent advocates, lawyers who specialize
in particular aspects of child welfare law, supervisors, and other in-
house personnel. With this interdisciplinary case practice model, most
parents are represented by a lawyer along with a social worker and/or
parent advocate. Parent advocates are individuals who have faced
proceedings in the Family Court as parents charged with maltreating
their children. Some providers have additional experts on sta, as well:
attorneys to represent clients in criminal, housing, and immigration
court; experts who focus on troubleshooting public assistance, educa-
tional issues, and other government systems; paralegals; and in-
While staattorneys address in-court representation, social work
staaddress issues outside the courtroom to support the family, in-
cluding advocating for parents at agency conferences, assisting parents
to enroll in court-ordered programs, and otherwise attending to their
needs. The oces pay particular focus to shortening the time children
spend in foster care as well as on visiting arrangements for children and
their parents that are as frequent and long as possible and in natural
settings; placement arrangements that support a childs connection to
family; services that address a parent and childs strengths and needs
and which are tailored to the specic family; and, conferences and
meetings that occur out of court and provide opportunities for parents
and older youth to participate in their case planning (Cohen & Cortese,
2009; Stone-Levine, 2012).
A growing body of literature describes quantitatively how models of
improved parental representation benet case outcomes for children
and families, particularly speeding up the time to permanency out-
comes (see a review in Gerber et al., 2019). More recent studies have
explored qualitatively what the mechanisms are that may inuence
these outcomes. A mixed method evaluation of a child protection law
clinic in a Midwestern state utilizing a somewhat similar model to the
ILO model found that, rst, clients appreciated the strong, holistic and
humanisticlegal defense they received (Haight, Marshall, & Woolman,
2015). Additional research describes how the breadth of discussion at
the initial hearings in child protective cases increases the likelihood of
case closure and reunication (Summers, Gatowski, & Gueller, 2017).
Second, in the Midwestern law clinic, maintaining a positive attorney-
client relationshipidentied as a challengewas believed to be a
critical element in successful representation. The study notes that
many recognized the challenges faced by [law] student [attorneys] in
developing and sustaining relationships with distressed parents whose
life experiences were very dierent from their own(Haight et al.,
2015, p. 16). Furthermore, some parents were concerned about the
apparent friendliness of their attorney with opposing counselwhich
reected their lack of familiarity with legal norms(Haight et al.,
2015, p. 15). Third, research suggests that parent mentor programs si-
tuated outside of the formal child welfare system and which employ
parents from a community are better equipped to serve and develop
relationships with parents in that community who are involved with the
child welfare system. A study of the Minnesota One-Stop for Commu-
nities Parent Mentor Program, started by and employing African-
American parents from the local community, found that they were more
able to build trusting relationships with and address the needs of
African-American parents from nearby communities (Soer-Elnekave,
Haight, & Jader, 2020).
Drawing on the insights from these studies, here we continue to
explore how the quality and scope of representation provided, the in-
terdisciplinary team members including parent mentors, and the at-
torney-client relationship are linked to one another and the outcomes of
3. Research methods
3.1. Overview
We designed this study to help explain dierences in case outcomes
established in a quasi-experimental study which, through a propensity
score matching design, concluded that ILOs in NYC hastened re-
unication for children in foster care, with no changes in child mal-
treatment rates as compared to panel attorneys (Gerber et al., 2019). In
order to understand ILO case practice, parentsexperiences and court
functioning, we interviewed a range of key actors in the NYC Family
Court, including parents who had experienced a family court case and
representatives from every party in child protection cases. Interviewing
stakeholders from all the parties involved in child protection court cases
allowed us to compare responses on important topics from many van-
tage points. We conducted the qualitative interviews with the following
research question in mind: How do any dierences between the ILO model
and the panel attorney model account for the variation in outcomes between
the two models? In answering this question, we explored three guiding
questions listed below:
How does the ILO model dier from the panel attorney model in
How do parentsexperiences dier with the ILO model than with the
panel attorney model?
What eects has the ILO model had on overall court functioning and
other court stakeholders?
Ultimately, we synthesized our answers to these three sub-questions
to help explain the dierences seen in the outcome data, and we discuss
the implications for policy and practice.
3.2. Sample
We interviewed a range of key actors in the NYC Family Court: [1]
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
parents who had experienced a child protection case, [2] attorneys from
both models of representationILO and 18-B panel, [3] judges and
court attorneys, [4] attorneys that prosecute cases for the child welfare
agency (known as FCLSattorneys as these staare part of the Family
Court Legal Services division of the NYC Administration for Childrens
Services), and [5] attorneys who represent children in child protection
Our interview respondents are described in Tables 1 and 2. Our
analysis sample comprises 42 legal practitioners, and 17 parents who
had a recent child protection case in the NYC Family Court and met the
studys criteria. We interviewed 7 additional parents who were ex-
cluded because they had cases only prior to 2007, or only had family
court cases that were not child protection cases.
Table 2 shows the demographic information we gathered about
parents who participated in the study. Of the 17 parents who met the
criteria, seven were represented by panel attorneys, seven by ILO at-
torneys, one parent by both types of attorneys, one parent by a privately
hired attorney, and one parent by an attorney we could not identify.
The most common nal case outcome for parents we interviewed was
reunication (14 parents), followed by some children reunied and
some released to a relative (2 parents), and some children reunied and
some adopted (1). Case outcomes happened to distribute evenly across
attorney types and so are unlikely to bias our results across attorney
type. Of the parents who had children released to a relative, one was
represented by an ILO attorney and one by a panel attorney; and the
parent who had children who were adopted was represented by both
types of attorneys. Demographic characteristics seem to be re-
presentative of parents who have children removed to NYCs foster care
system. Of parents who identied their racial and ethnic identities,
100% were people of color, and of all parents, 69% identied as Black
or African-Americanreecting the reality of entrenched systemic ra-
cism in NYCs foster care system.
For each practitioner group, we interviewed at least one profes-
sional from every court borough. Practitioners we interviewed had
extensive experience practicing in the NYC Family Court, with most
having over ten years of experience.
3.3. Procedures
Two researchers conducted most of the interviews, and three
trained law students conducted the remaining interviews. Most inter-
views were conducted in-person, and some were conducted over the
phone (3 practitioners and 7 parents) depending on the individuals
preference. For most interviews, individuals did not consent to be audio
recorded, so we relied on notes taken during and after the interview;
some interviews were recorded and transcribed verbatim (4 practi-
tioners and 7 parents). Practitioner interviews were conducted in the
individualsoce or at the courthouse. Parent interviews were con-
ducted at a variety of locations with the individuals convenience and
comfort determining the location, oftentimes at a coee shop or res-
taurant near the persons home or work. Interviews lasted approxi-
mately 40 min on average. We received approval from the Casey Family
Programs Human Subjects Review Committee, the New York University
IRB, and Solutions IRB to conduct this study. Recruitment materials,
interview questionnaires, consent forms, and telephone scripts may be
obtained from the authors upon request.
3.4. Recruitment protocol
Regarding recruitment, parents needed to meet the following cri-
teria to be eligible: they must have been a parent respondent in a child
protection proceeding in the NYC Family Court that began after 2007,
and they could not have an open case with the ACS or the NYC Family
Court as of the screening date. By recommendation from our advisory
board group, we did not interview any parents with an active ACS or
family court case. We were advised that parents with any active in-
volvement in any child welfare court proceeding might feel coerced
into participating or that their participation might impact the outcome
of their case. To recruit parents, we set up a phone line and email ad-
dress where parents could contact the research team. Each parent who
contacted us was screened for eligibility and, if eligible, interviewed in-
person or over the phone. Each parent received a $100 gift card for
participation in the study.
With the phone and email in place, we conducted outreach to solicit
responses from parents using three strategies: [1] outreach to local
service agencies and community organizations, [2] partnering with
parent advocacy organizations, and [3] referrals from interview parti-
cipants. First, the research team identied a list of hundreds of local
services agencies and community organizations, such as foster care
agencies, preventive service agencies, churches, community centers,
libraries, food pantries, homeless shelters, medical providers, and
Table 1
Practitioner Sample Characteristics (N = 42).
Practitioner Type No. %
ILO Attorney 19 45%
FCLS (ACS Attorney) 8 19%
Judge 6 14%
Legal Aid 4 10%
Court Attorney 3 7%
Panel Attorney 2 5%
Table 2
Parent Sample Characteristics (N = 17).
Sample Characteristics No. %
Attorney Type
ILO 7 41%
Panel 7 41%
Both 16%
Private 16%
Unidentied 16%
First Petition Filing Year
2003 16%
2010 2 12%
2011 16%
2012 2 12%
2013 16%
2014 2 12%
2015 3 18%
2016 4 24%
2017 16%
Court Borough
Brooklyn 4 24%
Bronx 7 41%
Manhattan 5 29%
Queens 16%
English as Primary Language
Yes 15 88%
No 2 12%
Black or African-American 10 59%
Hispanic/Latinx 5 29%
Native-American 16%
Unidentied 16%
Highest Education Obtained
High school/GED 8 47%
Some College 5 29%
College Degree 3 18%
Graduate Education or Degree 16%
Age Group
2230 7 41%
3140 5 29%
4150 4 24%
5160 16%
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
welfare oces. We emailed information about the study and brochures
to each provider for the provider to share. The team also presented at a
few local service provider meetings. Second, the research team con-
tacted organizations that advocate on behalf of parents who have ex-
perienced child welfare cases, such as the Child Welfare Organizing
Project (CWOP) and RISE magazine. These organizations shared in-
formation about the study with parents involved in their organizations,
and more broadly to other parents. Third, at the end of each interview
with a parent, we shared our contact information with them so that
they could pass it along to anyone they may know who could then
contact us directly, if interested.
During the interviews, we asked parents for information about their
family court case, how their attorney and other starepresented them
and prepared them for court hearings and conferences, services they
received during their case, and the overall impact of their attorney and
team on their court case. We learned about parent perceptions of due
process and fairness, eective and ineective characteristics of re-
presentation, challenges and frustrations parents faced when working
with their attorneys, and the ideal role of parent representation based
on their own experiences.
In sampling court practitioners, we wanted to interview at least one
professional from every relevant court borough for each practitioner
group, in order to understand the dierences across courts. We also
intended only to interview professionals with ve or more years of
experience in the NYC Family Court to get a more knowledgeable
group. To achieve an unbiased array of perspectives, we attempted to
get a random sample of legal practitioner participants by randomly
selecting them from a list (using the above criteria) and inviting them to
participate by email. When we needed additional participants due to
low response rates, we sought recommendations from our advisory
board groupwhich included judges, representatives from the child
welfare agency and foster care providers, an active panel attorney, and
a representative from an ILO, among others.
Each practitioner group required a slightly dierent manner of se-
lection described below. Judges and court attorneys were initially
selected randomly from a list of active judges and invited to participate.
Several of these individuals either did not respond or declined to be
interviewed. To ensure that we gathered the views of judges, we in-
terviewed some jurists who were recommended by our advisory board.
Executive stafrom the Administration for Childrens Services Family
Court Legal Services Division selected FCLS attorneys for interviews,
and executive stafrom the Legal Aid Society recommended super-
vising child attorneys for interviews. Both FCLS and the Legal Aid
Society used the criteria above in making these recommendations. We
dont believe that either group skewed the perspective we received from
our interview participants. Neither group had a vested nancial or
other interest in giving us a more or less favorable view of the ILO
model, and FCLS statold us explicitly that they wanted us to speak to
some attorneys who had unfavorable views of the ILO model and some
who had favorable views so that both would be represented. Parent
attorneys from each representation model were randomly selected to
participate in the study. Based on starosters, we developed lists of
currently practicing attorneys from each panel and provider who had
been practicing for at least ve years. We achieved a 100% response
rate from the ILO attorneys. We sent out multiple emails to individual
panel attorneys but received no responses that led to interviews. We
then spoke to panel attorneys at the courthouses to request interviews
and were able to recruit some attorneys to participate in interviews.
3.5. Analytic approach
In analyzing our interview data, we began by reading through the
interview data which comprised interview notes and transcripts. Then,
we developed a codebook of themes and sub-themes, each with a de-
scription and keywords, drawing our initial list of codebook items from
the questions in our interview instruments. These topics comprised
parent attorney case practice, court functioning and the system-wide
impact of parent representation, parentsexperiences and satisfaction,
and overall assessments of the two models of parent representation.
Once the research team agreed on an initial codebook, three researchers
coded a small subset of the interviews and compared responses. The
research team then revised the codebook to include additional themes
and collapse similar themes. After consensus was reached on the
meaning of each theme, the three researchers double-coded 6 inter-
views of multiple participant types in order to assess the reliability of
the coding and align their coding schemes. The researchers discussed
and manually reviewed the 6 double-coded interviews, and there was
high agreement in coding across the interviews though we did not use a
statistical measure of inter-rater reliability. The three researchers then
divided up the remaining interviews and coded line-by-line in NVivo
with the nalized codebook.
After the interviews were coded, we summarized insights from each
group and compared instances of each theme and sub-theme across the
interview participant groups listed above to answer the three guiding
questions. We focused on what interview participants frequently said
about each theme, what insights we could nd that were relevant to our
questions, and how statements from one group compared to what other
groups of interview participants said. In analyzing the transcripts, we
most importantly intended to compare experiences with the ILO and
panel attorney models of parent representation. We were additionally
mindful of several dichotomies among our interview participants: [1]
ILO attorneys versus panel attorneys, [2] parents represented by ILOs
versus parents represented by panel attorneys, [3] parents versus parent
attorneys, [4] parent attorneys versus other court actors, and [5] court
practitioners who worked in the NYC Family Court before and after
ILOs were implemented versus court practitioners who worked in the
NYC Family Court only after ILOs were implemented. Through
matching quotations across themes and comparison groups, we wove
together the stories and perspectives that parents and practitioners
shared in order to answer our research question.
4. Findings
4.1. Overview
As we discussed earlier, this study investigates the ILO model with
the research question: how do any dierences between the ILO model
and the panel attorney model account for the outcome data? Prior
ndings showed that the ILO model in New York City signicantly
shortened foster care stays when parents were represented by ILOs as
compared with representation provided by solo practitioner attorneys.
In this study, we gather what can be learned about why outcomes dif-
fered. What are the mechanisms through which ILOs are able to secure
the safe return of children from foster care to their families more
Through our analysis of our interviews, we identied three core
components that appear to make the ILO model successful: [1] uniform
high-quality representation, [2] interdisciplinary practice, and [3] paying
attention to the clients well-being. The following sections describe each
4.2. Uniform high-quality representation
From our analysis of our interviews, the rst key factor in the ILO
model shortening time in foster care is uniform high-quality re-
presentation. The ILO case practice approach focuses on well-executed
creative and aggressive court hearing practice in a standardized way
across attorneys trained within each organization. We use the term
high-qualityreferencing the denition for high-quality legal ad-
vocacy for parent attorneys created by the Family Justice Initiative
(FJI). According to FJI, high-quality legal advocacy comprises the fol-
lowing four elements:
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
Develop a case theory and legal strategy for adjudication, and advance
other client objectives and issues that support reunication (e.g., litiga-
tion to increase visitation).
Engage in proactive case planning, develop and propose a case plan,
identify service providers, and set a visitation schedule (if family main-
tenance or immediate family reunication is not possible).
Litigate issues and use experts, as needed, to achieve clientscase goals,
including through active motion practice throughout proceedings, not
only at statutorily set periodic review dates.
Explain to clients their right to attend court hearings and advocate for
clients who want to attend court proceedings to attend in person. (Family
Justice Initiative, 2019)
Below we highlight the major ways that the ILO oces, according to
one judge, changed the culture at courtthrough uniform high-quality
representation and how that leads to faster reunication for families.
4.2.1. Client contact
Most parents who were represented by ILO lawyers were very sa-
tised with how their attorney contacted and prepared them for court
hearings: when I called her, she always called me back right after on
the same day.We found in analyzing our interviews that the presence
of social workers and parent advocates in the ILO representation model
appeared to increase the amount of communication between court
appearances. As one parent who was represented by an ILO lawyer said,
I [saw] the social worker more because she made herselfavailable to
me. Attorneys from both models reported spending a majority of their
day in court, going from hearing to hearing with little downtime. ILO
attorneys, however, relied on other team members, particularly the
social workers and parent advocates, to stay in touch with the client
and respond promptly to their inquiries. Other practitioner groups also
found that ILO teams responded faster to their communications, facil-
itating the interaction between the parties to move the case forward
more quickly. For example, one Legal Aid lawyer explained that law-
yers from the ILOs responded to out-of-court communications much
faster than panel lawyers did, something this lawyer believed is an
important reason that they achieve better results for their clients.
In contrast, among the parents we spoke to, parents represented by
panel lawyers were much more likely to complain about the lack of
communication between court appearances. I always felt like I was
doing the work opposed to him. Like I would just call him and tell him,
hey, I found out this, hey, I found out that.Another parent who had a
panel lawyer said, I understand that lawyers have a lot of cases, but
when you tell me to call you and I call you, then answer.Panel at-
torneys, according to our interview respondents, while being well-
meaning, passionate, and skilled practitioners, lack the resources to
maintain close contact with clients. Shued from hearing to hearing
during the workday, panel attorneys often cannot respond to client
inquiries within a reasonable time.
ILO attorneys had social workers and other team members to sup-
port maintaining close contact with clients. On the other hand, panel
attorneys did not have those resources and, therefore, were pretty
much never o[work].One panel attorney described herculean eorts
to stay in contact with clients: I talk to my clients, meet my clients,
read every document they give me, answer every single text they send
me at 7:00 am in the morning, at 1:00 am on Saturdays, on Sundays.
But, the voices from parents and other stakeholders told a dierent
story one where panel attorneys often could not live up to this stan-
dard, because of the lack of team member support. In addition to im-
proving client satisfaction, the capability to maintain frequent client
contactbuoyed by the interdisciplinary teamfacilitates better court
preparation within the ILO model, and other advantages, as we describe
4.2.2. Court preparation
The consensus among court practitioners was that ILOs were better
prepared on averagefor hearings. One FCLS attorney described that
the ILOs are more aggressive in requesting that children be returned to
their families quicker, more aggressive getting discovery at [con-
ferences], advocating [for clients] next visitation generally more
prepared in hearings than panel lawyers.One judge stated that the
oces really do high quality work; they are better preparedthan the
panel lawyers. Practitioners stressed that ILO attorneys strategically
prepared to leverage each court hearing to resolve their clients case,
recognizing that months may disappear between hearings and their
client may continue to be separated from their children. In a deeper
way than panel lawyers, the ILOs prepare to use each court appearance
to advance their clients cause, often accelerating the time cases can be
resolved. By actively preparing how to use each court appearance as a
potentially signicant one, the ILOs help secure childrens return to
their families more quickly through advancing the parents interests
and providing the judge a more holistic picture of the case.
Judges told us that better court preparation from the parents at-
torney led to quicker decisions on their part. One judge stressed that
whether or not we [judges] are presented with the evidence that we
needimpacts the judges ability to decide the case correctly and
timely. In her words, if all you hear from is ACS and we dont hear
from the parentsattorneys who havent gone and subpoenaed wit-
nesses or uncovered records or brought in whatever other piecesthen
Im simply missing that information. My job is made more complicated
if you feel like the attorney representing the parent is not actually
bringing out information that might be out there that they havent ac-
tually tapped into.When the attorney has adequately prepared for the
hearing and planned how to leverage that hearing to move the case
forward, judges have all the information they need to make quicker
decisions and the parentsinterests are advanced to a greater degree.
Because of better court preparation, one Legal Aid lawyer said that
lawyers from the ILOs hold the system accountable in a way that the
panel attorneys cannot.This lawyer explained that the ILO lawyers
are very concrete in making sure everyone knows where the failings
are, if its a failing by an agency.This lawyer also explained that the
ILOs approached court proceedings more formally than the panel at-
torneys, insisting that everyone follow the law; the lawyer believed
that, by doing so, children stayed in care for shorter periods of time.
Ultimately, one Legal Aid attorney expressed that ILOs have made us
do our jobs better and contributed to this court being more of a real trial
court. It used to be that instead of putting a witness on, attorneys would
just tell the court [what is going on]. Now we have more real hearings,
more demanding hearings. We are all more skilled trial attorneys be-
cause of it.
In addition to supervision and training for attorneys, part of what
allows the ILO attorneys to prepare better for hearings is that the legal
team maintains close contact with the parent and thus has more com-
plete evidence to share and a more developed case theory and legal
4.2.3. Legal motions
Respondents reported that ILO lawyers le many more motions and
requests for court hearings than panel lawyers. As one FCLS lawyer
expressed it, Before [the ILO oce] came onto the scene, there was
very little motion practice in the courts. The panel lawyers took the
position that it would be good enough to discuss the case next time in
court.A second FCLS lawyer said the ILO oces changed the practice
from one in which motions were rare to where they are a regular fea-
ture of practice.One judge explained how the new ILO oces raised
the level of practice in Family Court considerably when they began in
2007. When the lawyers from the oces came in and started making
motions and ling appeals and doing zealous practice, everybody
started the panel lawyers took notice.Like other legal practitioners,
Legal Aid lawyers emphasized the extent to which the ILOs changed the
culture of the court by practicing at a level unseen before. One Legal
Aid lawyer explained that the ILOs utilize superior motion practice
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
part of a whole team to step up the game.
The kind of motions mentioned most frequently were requests for
evidentiary hearings pursuant to sections 1027 or 1028 of the New York
Family Court Act (known as 1027 or 1028 hearings) at the very be-
ginning of the case challenging the recommendation of the child wel-
fare agency that the child or children be placed in foster care. Parents
have the option to oppose the placement of a child into foster care at
any time during the pendency of the case. Once requested, the hearing
must begin within 72 hours of the request. The issue to be decided is
either whether there was a lawful basis for the childs removal or, even
if there was, whether changes in conditions since the childs placement
make it safe to return the child.
Before the ILO oces opened, very few contested hearings were
held challenging a childs foster care placement. Court practitioners
unanimously described an uptick in these hearings following the im-
plementation of ILOs. According to one judge, because panel lawyers
also have other caseloads at the same time,they would not bother
seeking these hearings. But with the coverage made available to the
stalawyers in the ILO oces, they are able to insist upon these
hearings.Today, these hearings are commonplace in the NYC Family
Court. By using each court appearance to advance their clients cause,
as one Legal Aid lawyer put it, the new oces greatly accelerated the
return of children to their families and the courts oversight of place-
ment decisions when children were removed from their parents.
According to the court actors we interviewed, the ILOs frequently
le other motions previously unknown in the court system, ranging
from seeking more frequent visitation and under the least restrictive
conditions when children are in foster care to more complete discovery
(sharing of documents and information relating to the case) so that they
are better prepared to defend their clients. One Legal Aid attorney who
had practiced before the ILOs began mentioned that previously, ACSs
not responding to discovery demands was a problem, now its routine to
get discovery early in a casebecause of frequent motions from ILO
attorneys. According to one FCLS attorney who had been practicing
prior to ILOs, panel attorneys didnt usually le motions too much
they never put a motion on paper but might verbally argue it for the
court.The motions can speed up the court process by pressuring other
parties to respond to the respondent parentsrequests within statutorily
dened timeframes.
Certain features of the ILO model make ling motions easier and
more consistent with best legal practice than for panel attorneys. One
judge pointed to the excellent supervision provided by the oces as
maintaining a high level of practice consistently, whereas panel attor-
neys have no supervisor and more variation in practice. The judge ex-
plained further that its more than just an individual's supervision. Its
an agency that has the ability to look on a broader scale at policy and
outcomes and what needs to happen to improve the level of practice.
As a single nonprot entity, each ILO shares motions across cases,
conducts regular trainings to develop practice, and disseminates recent
rulings or updates to law. Each provider retains a digital database of all
motions led by topic of law. Over time, an institutional knowledge
base has developed where an ILO attorney can easily nd a readily
usable template for complex motions that a panel attorney would need
to draft from scratch. Furthermore, representing parents in potentially
thousands of cases each year allows the ILO oces to identify and
improve patterns in practice.
4.2.4. Court process and timeliness
Legal practitioners outlined several ways that ILO case practice sped
up the court process. This occurred, they believe, because ILOs reduced
the need for postponements compared to panel lawyerswhether due
to illness, vacation or conict with another court appearance having
been scheduled at the same time. The ILO system of representation
allows for another lawyer from the oce to appear in place of the as-
signed lawyer who is unavailable, speeding up the process overall. Each
oce shares a case management system so substitute attorneys can
review the details of the case. One court attorney explained that, You
are much more likely to have nonappearances by panel
attorneysThey're all independent practitioners, so if theyre hospita-
lized or out sick or disorganized, there isn't necessarily anyone to cover
that case for them.
A judge explained that the ILO lawyers get started on cases much
more quickly than panel lawyers, because sometimes no panel lawyers
are ready and available to be assigned to cases. This judge said, with
panel attorneys we are having delays where we simply can't nd an
attorney to accept the case. We try, and it impacts our overtime which
isn't really the big issue for this studyThat's dierent with the in-
stitutional providers, to have a really reliable and steady stream of
people who are committed to appearing on the number of cases.One
judge said that the ILO model did not make court practice more e-
cient, but rather suggested that it made aspects of court work easier
because of better coverage and management of court dates.
The ILO model, however, challenged many FCLS attorneys in a more
adversarial way than panel attorneys, negatively impacting some FCLS
attorneysworkloads and job satisfaction. Some FCLS attorneys appre-
ciated that ILO attorneys could be easier to contact due to a centralized
oce number and supervisors, and that ILO attorneys assisted parents
with services which helped resolve cases more quickly. Some FCLS at-
torneys believed that the ocespenchant for ling motions and
hearings slowed down the court system by requiring the judges, and the
related court personnel (prosecuting lawyers, childrens lawyers, and
witnesses), to spend more time hearing evidence or reviewing court
papers. One FCLS lawyer stated that the ILO attorneys inhibited their
ability to hire new FCLS attorneys, because of how ILO attorneys treat
FCLS attorneys and how the oces engage in media eorts to portray
the ACS negatively. One FCLS lawyer even wondered whether the of-
ces were preventing children from being reunited sooner because of
their adversarial posture, suggesting that the more aggressive advocacy
engaged in by the institutional providers hurt[s] their clients because
it can be unlikely to settle and more likely to go to trial. The constant
need to litigate everything limits the amount of good work ACS can do.
This lawyer explained that panel attorneys will listen to what she and
the caseworkers have to say and why the case is in court. In contrast,
the oce providers too often are not interested in hearing any of that;
they talk to their clients and get their clients position, and they wont
listen to any other story or facts.
Notably, the quantitative study of the ILO model referenced earlier
found that, in the aggregate, the ILO model sped up the time to children
returning home as compared to the panel attorney model. Given this
nding, while it may be possible that an ILO attorney utilizing excessive
litigation or being unwilling to settle may delay some cases, that does
not appear to be common. It is possible that FCLS attorneys had
adoption cases in mind, as the quantitative study found no dierence in
the timeliness to adoption, and ILO attorneys would, in most cases,
heavily contest any termination of parental rights and subsequent
4.3. Interdisciplinary practice
The second key factor in the success of the ILO model is inter-
disciplinary practice. By interdisciplinary practice, we mean that most
parents are represented by a lawyer along with a social worker and/or
parent advocate. While the legal staaddress in-court representation,
social work stasupport 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. In
contrast, holistic practice refers to the work of addressing con-
temporaneous collateral legal issues to the child protection case, which
may involve additional experts on sta. For example, holistic practice
may involve attorneys to represent clients in criminal, housing, and
immigration court, or experts who focus on troubleshooting public as-
sistance, educational issues, and other government systems. Below we
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
describe the critical ways that the ILO interdisciplinary practice allows
children to be reunited sooner with their parents.
4.3.1. Utilization of interdisciplinary teams
All the parents represented by ILO attorneys mentioned that the
lawyer was supported either by a parent advocate, social worker, or
both, and most parents appreciated the support. As one parent shared,
the social worker was there, and she was very helpful and under-
standing. I can go to her and she was denitely available to me.One
Legal Aid attorney put it, with [ILOs], the social worker is built into
the model.The dierent oces in the study employ their inter-
disciplinary stadierently. As of the time we conducted interviews,
the Center for Family Representation strives to use lawyers and social
workers on virtually every case. The Bronx Defenders and Brooklyn
Defenders are more likely to make case-by-case determinations re-
garding whether and to what extent to add non-attorney resources to a
particular case.
Almost every parent represented by panel attorneys said that their
lawyer was the only person working on their case. One panel attorney
interviewed acknowledged that he hadnt felt the need [to have ad-
ditional stamembers helping] on the particular cases that I have with
the particular clients that I have.He went on to add that many of
them are lucky enough to have family who can help guide them if they
need some assistance. Another panel lawyer explained I dont need
social workers. I did social work for 15 years before I started practicing.
Ive taught in social work schools, so Im the social worker.
Court practitioners agreed that panel attorneys rarely asked judges
to assign a social worker to work with them, despite a provision in the
law permitting them to do so. Among other issues, the procedure for
doing so is onerous. An attorney must complete the petition to the
court, wait for the order to be approved, select a social worker from an
approved court list, and then call and hire the social worker pending
their availability. As one Legal Aid attorney (who represents children)
said, by the time a panel attorney [gets] a court order [to appoint a
social worker], they are behind the ball already.However, even when
the provision is used, the social worker may not be integrated into the
case practice eectively. In the one case where a parent represented by
a panel attorney had a social worker, the parent didnt understand the
point of the social worker, she didnt help much, she was just there.
This parents experience suggests that there is a signicant dierence
when the social worker is a part of the core team from the very be-
ginning versus when the social worker is added on to perform a specic
Below, we describe the key functions we discovered of the inter-
disciplinary team and how these functions potentially impact case
4.3.2. Out-of-court case conferences
In New York, as in many jurisdictions, the majority of discussions
that focus on service plans, the case planning goal, and the details re-
garding visitation of children in foster care occur outside of the court-
room in a series of case conferences run by the child welfare agency.
Parents are obligated to attend these conferences. While these con-
ferences are extra-judicial, the recommendations and decisions made at
them often have an outsized inuence on what happens in the court-
room. In court, caseworkers commonly make key case recommenda-
tions based on what transpired at the out-of-court conferences.
Furthermore, caseworkers can bring information or statements from
these conferences into the courtroom, in the form of evidence or tes-
timony. As one judge explained, the most important part of what
happens in a child welfare case doesnt happen in the court room;
whats most important is how you engage with the agency, understand
the case plan, assist the case plan, tailor the case plan to the clients
needs.The judge added that the attorneys from the ILOs are more
eective [than panel attorneys] in negotiating with the agencies.
One of the dening qualities of ILO practice is to accompany
parents, to the extent feasible, to all meetings and conferences with the
child welfare agency. In the ILO interdisciplinary team practice, the
lawyer appears in court and either the social work or parent advocate
member of the team (or both) attend these meetings. Parents who were
clients of the ILOs told us they were regularly accompanied by staat
these conferences. One parent said, I was never alone at the ACS
conferences.Having a trained advocate on the parents side at these
meetings shifts the dynamic of the conference and ensures that the
parents voice will be heard; in many cases, practitioners and parents
believed that this led to decisions more favorable to parents than would
otherwise have happened.
An additional benet to having members of the ILO team attending
agency conferences is that the attorney is well-informed of case-related
changes between court appearances which they are able to bring to the
attention of the legal stafor the child welfare agency. One experienced
FCLS lawyer told us that there are many more out-of-court and be-
tween-court-appearances conversations with the lawyers from the of-
ces than with the panel attorneys, which leads to speedier outcomes in
many cases. He characterized the oce practice as more structured
and said that their social workers frequently inuence case conferences
by identifying services that parents need, as well as services they should
not be required to engage.
Panel lawyers, who lack these co-professionals, rarely, if ever, at-
tend these conferences. As one panel lawyer put it, they dont have
time to go to that.One panel lawyer, recognizing the importance of
knowing what happens between court appearances, but having no
means to nd out himself, always tell[s his] client, write down ev-
erything that happens, write down the time you did something, who
you spoke to.Unfortunately, this lawyer explained: I almost never get
a client who does that, I have given clients calendars and said, just write
it down. Very, very rarely have I had anybody whos ever done that.
Both panel lawyers we interviewed explained that they do not work
with their clients out of court and, if matters involving their service
plan ever arise, they will speak with the ACS attorney to look into the
matter. Instead of looking into services for their clients, including en-
suring the services are necessary, culturally appropriate and convenient
for the client, they rely on ACS. When asked is there any other type of
out of court support you provide to your clients, like talking to their
landlords or helping them maintain childcare,the simple answer was
No, to be honest, no.
That panel lawyers do not attend these out-of-court conferences
connes their eorts in advocating for their clientspositions to only
inside the courtroom which means missing key opportunities to gather
information and move their clientscases forward outside of court.
Panel attorneys often must rely on documentation from ACS on what
happened in conferences because no one from the legal team attended,
and this limits their ability to present the parents story of what hap-
pened and develop a legal strategy. Even if the parent takes notes in the
meeting, it may not be held as equal evidence to the perspective of a
caseworker or social worker. This dynamic can also erode the trust in
the parent-attorney relationship if, for example, an attorney questions a
parentsaccount of a conference because of a lack of documentation.
Furthermore, as we describe below, because panel lawyers do not at-
tend out-of-court conferences due to the lack of interdisciplinary team
members, panel lawyers often lean on service plans developed by ACS.
This, in turn, inhibits their ability to develop a trusting and supportive
relationship with the parent because the parent may view the attorney
as siding with ACS.
4.3.3. Services
Successful reunication of children and parents in child welfare
cases often hinges on the parentsengagement in a social service plan
to address and ameliorate underlying problems which led to a childs
removal to foster care. It is crucial that the service plan be appropriate
for the family, including that the services required of the parent are in
fact necessary and match their needs, and are provided by culturally
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
competent agencies which are accessible to the parent both regarding
hours and location. The ILO social work staspend considerable time
arranging for or vetting such services. In addition to ensuring appro-
priate services for their clients, ILO stahelp guard against pressure
from ACS to enroll parents in unnecessary or duplicative services.
Parents represented by ILOs expressed their appreciation when their
attorneys chopped half of the services from [the] ACS [proposed case
plans], so I can be more focused and have more time for my counseling
and get [my life] together.In contrast, parents represented by panel
attorneys often felt frustrated with the burden of their service plans and
their attorneys not contesting them. As one parent represented by a
panel attorney said about her lawyer, he would never argue about
what services I should do and would never defend methe judge would
make me do more things every time there were more allegations.
Other parents with panel representation described a check-the-box
mentality toward services that the court would give [me a] list of what
they wanted me to dothe lawyer would help coordinate services to
keep ACS out of [my] business.Adding extra services can delay the
time to reunication as the parent has more items to complete, which
means additional burdens on the parent and more chances to miss an
appointment or otherwise experience a circumstance that would set
back the timeline for reunication like losing a job (Lee, 2016).
The ILO social work stadoes far more than nd services for clients:
they arrange transportation, sometimes accompany clients to services,
troubleshoot with the provider around schedule and other issues which
may arise, and document parents' progress. As one parent who was
represented by an ILO shared, her social worker helped me nd par-
enting classes and anger management. Shell call them and have them
follow up with me. She told them that I am coming to those services.
She would call them to check in. She took pictures to show that I
completed those classes. She was in it every step of the way.While ILO
teams take on the work of engaging parents in services, its important to
note that this is actually the responsibility of ACS to make reasonable
eortsto return children home as quickly as possible. The oces are
eectively remedying failings in child protection casework practice as
we explore further in the conclusion.
One FCLS attorney attributed dierences in outcomes between the
oces and panel lawyers to the ocesinterdisciplinary approach to
representation: they can reach out to services and do more service,
making sure clients go to service providers compared to the panel
lawyers.Another FCLS lawyer told us that the ILOsmajor contribution
to the eld is the services the oces are able to secure for parents
through the eorts of their social work sta. This lawyer provided a
vivid example of how interdisciplinary parental representation makes a
dierence for parents. When the agency recommends a service provider
that has a waitlist, if the parent were represented by a panel attorney,
the parent would have to wait until there was an opening. But the in-
terdisciplinary oces proactive involvement results in the social
worker nding a dierent provider and securing the service for the
parent months or sometimes years sooner. As one parent told us They
made sure my kids got educational services and proper evaluation di-
agnoses. Financially, they helped me with housing. They just helped me
all the way around and tried to help me stay stable.
Panel attorneys often have a dierent conception of the best way to
ensure that their clients have appropriate services. Unlike the ILO of-
ces that independently work to identify the most appropriate services
for their clients, panel lawyers rely on the referrals from ACS case-
workers. As one panel attorney explained how he connects his clients to
services: I speak to the ACS attorney and try to get them.Panel at-
torneys lack the social worker resources to refer parents to services
independently and meet regularly with the caseworker on the case.
Many parents represented by panel attorneys mentioned how little their
lawyer did to help them with services; one parent shared that her
lawyer did not help her receive any services, which she directly at-
tributed to her being poor and having a court-appointed panel attorney.
Parents recognize that panel attorneys cannot assist with services and
rely on ACS for any service referrals, and therefore may view their at-
torney as part of the system as opposed to their advocate against the
system. The ultimate impact is that the parent may not trust their at-
torney as much which can reduce the attorneys ability to advocate
eectively for the parent.
4.4. Paying attention to the clients well-being
The nal key factor we identied from our interviews is that the ILO
case practice approach emphasizes paying attention to the clients well-
being. The interdisciplinary team closely attends to the clientsemo-
tional well-being and provides support that parents appreciate. Parent
advocates, in particular, occupy a unique position, bringing their own
personal experience to the parents situation. Collectively, when the
models focus on the clients well-being succeeds, the parent feels
trusting and supported; the legal team can more successfully advocate
for the parent, and the parent may complete their service plan more
quickly. Below we highlight the major ways that ILOs concentrate on
parentswell-being and how that may impact case outcomes.
4.4.1. Creating a supportive relationship between parents and the legal team
Most parents with ILO attorneys shared that they had respectful and
supportive relationships with their attorneys and the rest of the team
(e.g., social worker, parent advocate, and other members of the legal
team working on the case). Some parents stated their attorney tried to
gain a full understanding of their situation without making them feel
inadequate or inferior. Many parents represented by ILOs shared posi-
tive reviews of their experiences with their attorneys, citing great
support systems, attorney availability, a strong emphasis on protecting
their rights, and the social worker and parent advocate model as the
main reasons for satisfaction with their legal team. As one parent told
us of their ILO legal team, Overall, I was lucky they are 100% sup-
portive they never [judged] me. Welcoming their ability not to judge
me just [helped] the process [be] smooth. Made me feel like I don't have
to listen to ACS if it's not right.A small number of parents also stated
they have maintained contact and relationships with their ILO attorneys
after their cases ended. For example, one parent stated about their ILO
legal team, We had a good relationship. I felt like they are people that I
can talk to, and they care about me. They tried to help me in any way
they could, and they are very supportive. I still have communication
with them and they help me with [advice]. They are my support system,
and I will continue to contact them with questions.
We found that when attorneys developed a supportive relationship,
parents trusted their attorneys and cited this as a reason for engaging in
services about which they may otherwise have been skeptical. Parents
also described being more open to disclosing condential personal in-
formation to their attorney which helped their case but they may
otherwise not have disclosed. While we have no quantitative data on
the connection between the client-attorney relationship and case out-
comes, parents believed this to be a critical component to their sa-
tisfaction and achieving desired outcomes in their cases. Prior research
shows that many parents report feelings of shame and loss of trust in
professionals following experiencing a child protective services case
and believe that these feelings lowered their ability to engage in ser-
vices (Haight, Sugrue, Calhoun, & Black, 2017). In this context, what
our interviews suggest is that eective representation hinges on earning
the parents trust and maintaining a supportive relationship
As one childrens attorney from Legal Aid said, an important reason
the oces achieve better results is that they are much more huma-
nizing; theres more humanity in child welfare cases, so its much more
fair, theres more due processthan someone who wouldnt meet with
their clients between court dates.This lawyer explained that by being
more collaborative with the childrens attorneys than panel lawyers,
ILO lawyers are more eective in resolving cases. Even more im-
portantly, this lawyer said, the oces address the needs of their clients
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
beyond the particular case, which serves the long-term interests of fa-
milies. This lawyer said the ILOs better serve their clients because they
have much more contact with their clients outside of court, attending
cases conferences, and interacting with childrens attorneys regularly.
In one FCLS lawyers opinion, the proactive nature of the oce practice
is an amazing thing.The oce springs into motion from the very
beginning of the case, providing so much support there for the parent
which allows them to feel much more supported than they do when
represented by panel lawyers.
In contrast, many parents who were represented by panel attorneys
expressed that their voice was not heard, a collaborative relationship
was never formed, and there was an insucient amount of commu-
nication during the course of their case. Parents stressed that, despite
being confused by the process, they often had to gather materials alone
to keep their case moving forward, rather than receiving strong re-
presentation from their attorney at court. One parent who was re-
presented by a panel lawyer said, I always felt like I was doing the
work opposed to him. Like I would just call him and tell him, hey, I
found out this, hey, I found out that. He would say, Oh, I'll look into it. I
don't think he was really any help. When this is something you've never
dealt before, you're just lost.Still another parent explained, I would
have to get service providers to send information to the ACS foster care
agency, and my attorneys would not help with this.
These perceptions spanned the length of parentscases, starting in
their rst encounters. One parent represented by a panel attorney de-
scribed her rst encounter with him: The rst time I spoke to [my
attorney], he said, oh your papers just landed on my desk. Not like, Hi,
you know, I picked up your case. Im going to be working with you
your papers just landed on my desk.Another parent said that in their
rst meeting, she told her attorney her story and it was like it went in
one ear and it went out the other ear.Social workers are never present
at the initial meeting with a panel attorney. Panel attorneys also em-
phasized trust-building, but they described their approach as getting
the facts of the situationand letting parents know you have to work
with the ACS because thats the reality of the situation.As described
above, panel attorneys do not have the interdisciplinary team members
which limits their ability to maintain close contact with the parent,
attend out-of-court conferences, and provide any service referrals or
signicant service plan feedback. These factors make it more challen-
ging for panel attorneys to develop the supportive relationship needed
to provide eective representation and be seen as a trusted partner in a
parent's case. As one parent lamented of her panel attorney, I don't
think he cared about my case. Like no one was really on my side.
4.4.2. Addressing implicit bias, cultural competency, and trauma
Parents often perceived their attorney as either on my side”—a
trustworthy advocate ghting to make their voice heardor the op-
posite, a person embedded in the court system and state bureaucracy.
Two factors that parents cited as inuencing their relationship with
their attorney were how their attorney attended to the trauma of their
experience, and whether they experienced a lack of cultural compe-
tency or implicit bias from their attorneysometimes in the form of
condescension or microaggressions. One parent, for example, com-
plained that her ILO lawyer spoke too much and too long using legal
and technical terms without giving her a chance to absorb all that was
said. As a result, as soon as each meeting ended, the parent would take
notes in the bathroom afterward so that she could try to understand
what she was being told. This person added, her lawyer seemed not to
respect her knowledge and experience. It was frustrating that they
were underestimating me. There were also cultural dierence(s), which
the team was not competent in dealing with.She ultimately viewed
her attorney more as a tendril of the court system rather than as her
advocate and didnt feel her voice was heard in court.
As the parents we interviewed had experienced the trauma of their
children being removed, their legal team supported them during what
some parents described as the most challenging moment of their
livesthe separation from their children. One parent said what she
appreciated most about her attorney was that hes there to represent
you to make you feel as safe, as comfortable asyou can be. Our in-
terviews suggested that parents appreciated when their legal team ac-
knowledged this trauma or oered emotional support if desired. ILO
teams, we found, were better equipped to do this because of the in-
terdisciplinary team and training for team members.
Regarding implicit bias and cultural competency, some parents
described the challenges of navigating racial, cultural, economic,
gender, or other dierences with their attorney and how this compli-
cated developing trust during their case. For example, one parenta
black womandescribed that when she rst met her ILO attorneya
white man—“he was a little awkwardhes like a young goofball.She
then discussed how initially when she discussed her case with him, she
didnt feel she could trust him based on their rst interactions. When
asked about her case, she simply told him, My son got taken away from
me. Now theyre making me do X, Y, Z.As her case proceeded and she
saw that her attorney respected her, patiently listened to her, and ad-
vocated for what she expressed as important, she felt, Okay, I trust
you, I trust youand jumped right into services; her children were
reunited with her some months later. Ultimately, when asked how she
felt about her attorney, she said, you could talk to him. Whatever you
needed, whatever you admired to want or to have, he would make that
eort for you.In summary, she said, he represents me.
How the attorney navigated clientsidentities and experiences of
race, culture, class, gender, and othersinterlaced with the trauma of
separation from their childrenimpacted whether trust developed be-
tween the parent and attorney. Many parents described that they were
ghting a system unfairly stacked against them, as one parent said of
their ILO attorney, She represented me fairly well, it was better with
her. I didnt feel like I got what I wanted but did get the case to end, and
we got the best outcome we could have gotten. I understand what po-
sition she was in, that the court system is biased, this is the best way we
can get through the situation.In this context, whether the parent
viewed their attorney as part of a biased system or part of their struggle
against that system depended critically on how attorneys navigated
these issues and developed trust.
In our observations conducting this study, we noticed that ILO sta
appeared to more closely resemble the demographics of their cli-
entsmore female sta, more staof color, and more younger staf-
fand that ILO oces concentrated in a deeper way on addressing
implicit biases and understanding their clientscircumstances, than did
panel attorneys. The inclusion of parent advocates as staat the oces
seemed also to facilitate the teams connecting with individual clients on
their cases and to support eorts to reduce implicit bias and promote
understanding. Our interviews with parents suggest that these factors
inuence the trust and support that parents feel from their legal team.
And, as we describe above, when a trusting relationship develops be-
tween the parent and legal team, that can alter the outcome of the case
through presenting more complete information to the judge, better
representing the parentsperspective and voice in court, and engaging a
service plan that is more tailored and feasible for the parent.
5. Discussion
These interviews add to our understanding of the reasons the in-
terdisciplinary law oces achieved shorter lengths of stay in foster care
than clients represented by solo practitioners. In broad strokes, the
dierences seem to be attributable to three key components which
carry across multiple aspects of practice, and which distinguish the
method and format of the representation each version oers: [1] uni-
form high-quality representation, [2] interdisciplinary practice, and [3]
paying attention to the clients well-being. These factors are largely
consistent with prior research described previously, particularly the
salience of the client-attorney relationship illuminated in Haight et al.
(2015). To extend the research, we have traced how these components
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
interact with one another, and, ultimately, suggest why these compo-
nents lead to children returning home faster.
The interdisciplinary law oce approach to representing parents
places a premium on paying careful attention to what is happening in
the parentslives throughout the life of the court case. The oces also
appreciate that time is an extremely precious commodity in child wel-
fare cases. Legally, the length of time a child remains in foster care is an
important factor that will ultimately be considered when deciding the
outcome of the case. Emotionally, and in terms of human costs, the
impact on parents and children suering the consequences of family
separation is incalculable. In light of this, the interdisciplinary law of-
ces are organized to respond in the moment and proactively to ad-
vance their clientscase. Although we are unable to determine which
component is more important, it is clear from the summary of the in-
terviews that the three, in combination, go very far in explaining the
dierent outcomes achieved by the two models. Institutional structures
of the ILO model promote uniform high-quality legal presentation
through frequent client contact, better court preparation, well-executed
legal motions that advance the parentsinterests, and timely court
processing. Interdisciplinary practice facilitates more frequent client
contact and better court preparation. Furthermore, interdisciplinary
practice allows for the legal team to advocate for the parentsinterests
at out-of-court conferences and provide service referrals independent of
ACS and the agency. In turn, these factors and the case practice em-
phasis attend closely to the clients well-being, promoting a more sup-
portive relationship between the parent and legal team, while caring for
the clients emotional experience of their case and navigating implicit
bias and cultural competency.
Although we believe we have credibly interpreted our interview
respondents, this study contains two major limitations originating in
our data collection: [1] we interviewed a small and not representative
sample of parents, and [2] we were unable to interview enough panel
attorneys to document the model fully from the practitioner perspec-
tive. With the rst, we have attempted to be mindful of the small
sample size and used only commonalities across parentsresponses;
where possible, we lined up what we heard from parents with con-
sensus among practitioners to see whether the two weaved together a
consistent narrative or contradicted each other. We also reviewed prior
research on panel attorneys in New York City to understand how our
interviews aligned with the perspectives documented previously (Lee,
2016). Regarding the second limitation, although we received much
information about panel attorney practice from the panel attorneys and
other practitioners we interviewed, we consciously concentrated in this
study on the ILO model and how the model operates, rather than
striving for a direct comparison between the ILO model and the panel
attorney model. Panel attorney practice may vary signicantly from
attorney to attorney, and we recognize that we received only a very
partial picture because of the limited number of respondents who were
panel attorneys. Lastly, we believe that future research should extend
this qualitative framework by studying what happens when parents are
provided with interdisciplinary legal representation prior to court in-
volvement, at the point of child protection investigation. This is a
growing area of family defense practice with scant qualitative or
quantitative literature.
6. Conclusion
At a juncture in the U.S. child welfare policy paradigm where pre-
venting children from entering foster care and preserving families has
taken center stage, policymakers have increasingly explored parental
legal representation as an intervention to achieve this goal. When as-
sessing the potential success of replicating this parent legal re-
presentation model, jurisdictions should consider how the three com-
ponents that our interpretation suggests provide the foundation for the
ILO models success might apply. We recommend that jurisdictions
evaluate the environment of their family court, child welfare agency,
and safety net services to understand whether this kind of representa-
tion is possible. For example, when in each case are attorneys ap-
pointed? What tools and legal motions are available within the law that
parental lawyers may use? What social services are available in the
jurisdiction? The success of the ILO models interdisciplinary team
partially depends on the availability of social services within New York
City that may not be present elsewhere. However, paring down service
plans to only the most essential elements and advocating for parents in
out-of-court case conferences depend more on child welfare agency
practice rather than availability of services.
Lastly, paying attention to the clients well-being animates both the
uniform high-quality representation and the interdisciplinary practice,
spotlighting one of the critical lessons of the success of the ILO model.
The dual roleof the caseworker in child protection systemsto police
and to help, to protect children from their parents and to support
parents in taking care of their children is a fundamental dichotomy in
child welfare (Lee, 2016). To earn a parents trust to provide them with
support services and, simultaneously, to measure the information the
parent is entrusting to you to determine whether to remove their chil-
dren is a challenging task. Thus, the tension of these two roles can lead
to caseworkers feeling that neither role was satisfactorily completed
(Lee, 2016, p. 89). At a structural level, the surveillance role of child
protective workers and reporters has far-reaching implications for
parentsaccess to safety net services due to fear of child removal,
particularly for communities of color and parents living in poverty
(Fong, 2019).
An important feature of the ILO model, then, is that the inter-
disciplinary model intervenes to support parents who are involved in
the child welfare system while dislodging the dual rolethat often
constrains the relationship between a parent and caseworker. The ILO
attorney and social work staprovide support to the parent that does
not come at the price of surveillance. In turn, this support allows the
legal team to create a supportive relationship with the parent that
translates to a more tailored plan for the family, and clearer advocacy
and services to achieve the familys goal. While panel attorneys are
skilled legal practitioners who fearlessly advocate for their clientsin-
terests, the panel attorney model does not support uniform high-quality
representation, interdisciplinary practice, and paying attention to the
clients well-being. Panel attorneys do not have supervisory, training,
and administrative structures that ILOs have to standardize legal
practice; panel attorneys do not possess the interdisciplinary team
members to stay in contact with clients, attend out-of-court con-
ferences, and address services plans independently of ACS and the
agency; and, due to these factors as well as the case practice model,
panel attorneys are not as equipped to pay attention to the clients well-
being and build a supportive, trusting relationship that allows the at-
torney to be seen wholly as on the side of the parent.
Embedding a social worker or parent advocate into the parental
legal defense team coupled with a case practice model that pays at-
tention to the clients well-being and promotes uniform high-quality
legal practice is an innovative and eective contribution to the eld of
child welfare. That the intervention succeeds at keeping children safely
at home should encourage child welfare policymakers to ask how we
can further limit the policing role of caseworkers and service providers,
how we can more deeply address implicit bias and cultural competency,
and how we grow service models that support families outside the state
surveillance apparatus. The Minnesota One-Stop for Communities
Parent Mentor Program cited above is one example (Soer-Elnekave
et al., 2020).
From our interviews, we have woven together the story of how ILOs
transformed practice in the New York City Family Court. We have
helped explain why the ILO model is able to secure the return of chil-
dren from foster care to their families quicker than the panel model it
has replaced. While respondents expressed a range of opinions about
specic issues and eects of the introduction of ILOs, a consistent theme
emerged that parent representation markedly improved overallwith
L.A. Gerber, et al. Children and Youth Services Review 116 (2020) 105163
benets to parents, children, and the Family Court itself. As one Legal
Aid lawyer put it, approving the introduction of interdisciplinary law
oces in New York City, most problems [that] families have can be
resolved, and destroying families should be a last resort, and zealous
advocacy on all sides leads to better decisions and better outcomes for
families.Most important of all, New York Citys implementation of the
ILO model means the child welfare system is more justfairer to fa-
milies and parents who now have their voices amplied by their legal
CRediT authorship contribution statement
Lucas A. Gerber: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software,
Formal analysis, Data curation, Writing - original draft, Writing - review
& editing, Supervision, Project administration. Martin Guggenheim:
Conceptualization, Formal analysis, Resources, Writing - original draft,
Writing - review & editing, Funding acquisition. Yuk C. Pang:
Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Formal analysis, Data
curation, Writing - original draft, Visualization, Supervision, Project
administration. Timothy Ross: Conceptualization, Methodology,
Writing - review & editing, Supervision, Funding acquisition. Yana
Mayevskaya: Conceptualization, Methodology, Software, Formal ana-
lysis, Data curation, Writing - original draft. Susan Jacobs:
Conceptualization, Resources, Writing - review & editing, Funding ac-
quisition, Project administration. Peter J. Pecora: Conceptualization,
Methodology, Resources, Writing - review & editing.
Declaration of Competing Interest
Action Research is a consultancy and was hired by the Center for
Family Representation for an unrelated small project that was com-
pleted before this study began. Professor Guggenheim is a member of
the board of directors of the Center for Family Representation. Susan
Jacobs, Esq. is the founder and former Executive Director of the Center
for Family Representation.
This publication was made possible in collaboration with Casey
Family Programs, whose mission is to provide, improve and ulti-
mately prevent the need for foster care, through a generous grant New
York University School of Law. The ndings and conclusions presented
in this report are those of the author(s) alone, and do not necessarily
reect the opinions of Casey Family Programs. We thank our Advisory
Board committee for guiding our design and data interpretation. We
appreciate those organizations and individuals who partnered with us:
the parents whom we interviewed, Bridge Builders, the Bronx
Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services, the Center for Family
Representation, the Child Welfare Organizing Project, Gloria Vidal,
John Courtney, the First and Second Departments of the New York State
Supreme Court Appellate Division, Graham, the Legal Aid Society, New
York City Administration for Childrens Services Family Court Legal
Services Division and Oce of Advocacy, and Rise Magazine.
ABA National Project to Improve Representation for Parents (American Bar Association,
Center on Children and the Law) (2017). American Bar Association. http://www.
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During COVID-19, early-childhood school closings led to higher levels of stress in parents when compared to childless adults. In addition, lack of time to prepare, as well as mental-health problems, worry, and stress in parenting, may have hampered parents' ability to support their children's educational needs. The research aims to solve the problem of early childhood parenting during learning from home and improve the quality of early childhood parenting. The research method uses the research and development stage of the Borg & Gall model. Participants are mothers who have children aged 5-6 years. The data collection technique was done through expert validation and effectiveness testing with a quasi-experimental design. The data analysis used paired t-test statistical analysis. The findings show that the validity of the results of the material expert's test is 96%, and the media expert's test is 94% in the very good category. 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There is no Family Court (FC) without families. However, historically and presently, families have not been centered in child welfare (CW) and family unification practices. This article aims to increase knowledge of parents’ experiences with CW and FC to illustrate how these institutions operate in the lives of the families they were built to serve. Data collected from in-depth interviews with parents ( n = 4) and parent advocates ( n = 6) illustrate how space, place, and time were recreated once parents engaged with CW and FC. These emergent findings show the FC’s replication of racial and social inequities among poor mothers of color and how the FC facilitated punitive pathways to reunification. This article ends with a call for institutional reforms to align FC practices with their stated purpose of supporting and centering families.
The objective of the study was to identify the legal mechanisms for the protection of the family rights of the child and to outline the main problems of their implementation. The child's family rights system was found to contain the child's intangible basic rights, which establish his or her legal status in the family. This system includes the child's right to life, name, citizenship, knowledge of his parents, care of parents, coexistence with parents, preservation of his identity and citizenship, free expression of his own views. It states that the protection of the family rights of the child and the legal relations of parents and children is based on four principles. It is determined that the practical solution of issues related to the exercise of the family rights of the child is regulated by international law, which makes it possible to resolve issues related to the legal relationship between parents and children at the inter-State level. It is concluded that perspectives on legislative support for the family rights of the child demand further empirical research, as well as a theoretical and methodological justification for determining the legal mechanisms of their practical implementation.
Full-text available
This study utilizes a quasi-experimental propensity score matching design to assess the causal impact on child welfare outcomes when parents facing an abuse or neglect case in the New York City Family Court were provided interdisciplinary law office representation as opposed to a standard panel attorney. The interdisciplinary law office approach includes social work staff and parent advocates for the parent, and salaried attorneys working in nonprofit organizations. Using administrative child welfare data, the study assesses the foster care and safety outcomes of 9582 families and their 18,288 children. The propensity score matched results do not indicate a preventive effect toward foster care entry nor any difference in children's likelihoods of experiencing a subsequent substantiated report of maltreatment. However, when children's parents received the interdisciplinary representation and those children did enter foster care, children spent 118 fewer days on average in foster care during the four years following the abuse or neglect case filing. Subsequent competing risk models show that children whose parents received the interdisciplinary law office model achieved overall permanency, reunification, and guardianship more quickly. These results provide evidence that interdisciplinary law office parental representation is an effective intervention to promote permanency for children in foster care.
This qualitative study examines the Minnesota One-Stop for Communities Parent Mentor Program (MPMP). African American parents previously involved in the child welfare system conceptualized and spearheaded this program for parents currently involved in the system to reduce the involvement of families of color in child welfare, provide support and build protective factors. The MPMP exists alongside of, not as part of, state, county or tribal child welfare systems. This study included 15 in-depth, semi-structured interviews with parent mentors, parents and stakeholders, as well as participant observations and document reviews. Findings establish transferability of some of the positive findings of previous qualitative research on programs embedded within child welfare systems to the MPMP including the centrality of relationships to successful mentoring. It builds on existing research by providing insights into how to reduce racial disparities in the involvement of families of color in the child welfare system. Participants argued that by positioning their program outside of the formal child welfare system, they were better able to build trust and engage parents from African American and Indigenous communities, more flexibly address parent needs, and include parent mentors with a wide variety of life experiences. Implications for future research are discussed.
With the expansion of state surveillance and enforcement efforts in recent decades, a growing literature examines how those vulnerable to punitive state contact strategize to evade it. This article draws on in-depth interviews with eighty-three low-income mothers to consider whether and how concerns about Child Protective Services (CPS), a widespread presence in poor communities with the power to remove children from their parents, inform poor mothers’ institutional engagement. Mothers recognized CPS reports as a risk in interactions with healthcare, educational, and social service systems legally mandated to report suspected child abuse or neglect. Departing from findings on responses to policing and immigration enforcement, I find that CPS concerns rarely prompted mothers to avoid systems wholesale. Within their system participation, however, mothers engaged in a selective or constrained visibility, concealing their hardships, home life, and parenting behavior from potential reporters. As reporting systems serve as vital sources of support for disadvantaged families, mothers’ practices of information management, while perhaps protecting them from CPS reports, may preclude opportunities for assistance and reinforce a sense of constraint in families’ institutional interactions.
Child abuse and neglect court hearings are complex, multifaceted, and necessary for judicial oversight to ensure safe, timely permanency for youth and families involved in the system. While best practices have been suggested, little research has been conducted to examine what the critical components of a “high quality” dependency court hearing are, and, more importantly how these factors might be related to improved outcomes for children and families. The current study explores the relationship between breadth of discussion at the first hearing on the case and subsequent case decisions and outcomes. Findings suggest a positive relationship between breadth of discussion at the initial hearing and a higher likelihood of relative or parent placements compared to foster care placements, increased presence of parents throughout the life of the case, and higher likelihood of case closure and reunification. The study is limited by a small sample size and focus on one of many court hearings; however, it does provide empirical support that the quality of the court hearing may be related to better outcomes for families.
This study considers any “moral injury” occurring among parents involved with the Child Protection System (CPS). Moral injury refers to the lasting psychological, spiritual and social harm caused by one's own or another's actions in a high stakes situation that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. The existing literature focuses on military contexts, but moral injury also may play a role in increasing the vulnerability of CPS clients who are threatened with loss of their parental rights and dissolution of their families. We administered a modified version of the Moral Injury Events Scale (MIES) (Nash et al., 2013) to 10 CPS involved parents. We then conducted in-depth, semi-structured, audio recorded individual interviews with parents to elaborate their responses to the MIES. Parents’ MIES scores and interview elaborations suggest that some CPS-involved parents do experience moral injury. Moral injury was reported as a result of their own parenting behaviors, but also as a result of parents’ involvement with professionals and within social systems that are charged with providing assistance to struggling families. For instance, some parents perceived professionals to be shaming, social services to be harmful and legal proceedings stigmatizing. Parents’ reported reactions to morally injurious events included lasting feelings of guilt, shame and anger; and loss of trust in professionals. These responses impeded their perceived abilities to fully engage in services. If involvement in CPS places parents at increased risk of moral injury, then moral injury is a critically important construct for child welfare policy makers and workers to understand and address in the conduct of effective, ethical child welfare practice.
Influenced by news reports of young children brutalized by their parents, most of us see the role of child services as the prevention of severe physical abuse. But as Tina Lee shows in Catching a Case, most child welfare cases revolve around often ill-founded charges of neglect, and the parents swept into the system are generally struggling but loving, fighting to raise their children in the face of crushing poverty, violent crime, poor housing, lack of childcare, and failing schools. Lee explored the child welfare system in New York City, observing family courts, interviewing parents and following them through the system, asking caseworkers for descriptions of their work and their decision-making processes, and discussing cases with attorneys on all sides. What she discovered about the system is troubling. Lee reveals that, in the face of draconian budget cuts and a political climate that blames the poor for their own poverty, child welfare practices have become punitive, focused on removing children from their families and on parental compliance with rules. Rather than provide needed help for families, case workers often hold parents to standards almost impossible for working-class and poor parents to meet. For instance, parents can be accused of neglect for providing inadequate childcare or housing even when they cannot afford anything better. In many cases, child welfare exacerbates family problems and sometimes drives parents further into poverty while the family court system does little to protect their rights. Catching a Case is a much-needed wake-up call to improve the child welfare system, and to offer more comprehensive social services that will allow all children to thrive.
Providing parents with low incomes accused of child maltreatment access to quality legal representation is both a social justice issue and potential resource for improving their children's well-being. This mixed methods research evaluates a law school clinic which provides indigent parents with legal representation by law students supervised by experienced attorneys. Thirty-nine individuals knowledgeable about the clinic (12 court professionals, 5 law school faculty, 2 parent mentors, 11 students, and 9 parent clients) participated in in-depth, semi-structured, audiotaped interviews focusing on the quality of parent representation. Interviews were contextualized by extensive participant observation and document reviews. Quantitative analyses of administrative data focused on case outcomes identified by participants as desired during qualitative interviews: family reunification, timely case closure and children's placement with relatives. Outcomes for 19 children whose parents were represented by student attorneys did not differ significantly from those of a propensity score matched comparison group of 19 children whose parents were represented by fully licensed attorneys. Participants described clinic staff as providing strong legal counsel to parents, building positive attorney–client relationships, possessing positive personal characteristics, and providing a needed service to the broader community. Participants also identified areas for improvement including: educating parents around court procedures, and better cross system collaboration between child welfare and legal professionals. The Child Protection Clinic is a promising model for providing quality legal representation to parents involved with child protection in order to support child well-being.
While the U.S. Supreme Court has expressed the opinion that providing parental counsel to indigent parents is generally a sound practice, it has ruled that parents do not have an absolute constitutional right to counsel in termination of parental rights proceedings, and not all states provide a statutory right to counsel after child protection proceedings have been initiated or in termination proceedings. What constitutes adequate representation for indigent parents involved in abuse and neglect and parental rights termination proceedings remains an open question. This study addresses gaps in knowledge about the functioning of child welfare services and juvenile courts by evaluating the impact of a program of enhanced parental legal representation on the timing of permanency outcomes for 12,104 children who entered court-supervised out-of-home care in Washington State for the first time between 2004 and 2007. The study employs methods that are methodologically superior to prior efforts to evaluate parental representation and focuses on key outcomes of the child welfare and dependency court systems. Study findings provide evidence that the availability of improved parental legal representation speeds reunification with parents, and for those children who do not reunify, it speeds achieving permanency through adoption and guardianship.
Cornerstone advocacy in the first 60 days: Achieving safe and lasting reunification for families
  • Cohen
Cohen, J., & Cortese, M. (2009). Cornerstone advocacy in the first 60 days: Achieving safe and lasting reunification for families. ABA Child Law Practice, 28(3), 33-44.
Attributes of high-quality legal representation for children and parents in child welfare proceedings
  • Family Justice Initiative
Family Justice Initiative (2019). Attributes of high-quality legal representation for children and parents in child welfare proceedings.