Report: multidisciplinary rep for parents reduces foster care use

05/07/2019, Report, Abuse/Neglect/Dependency - Accused Parents

A multi-year study of child welfare cases (9,582 families and their 18,288 children through a four year follow-up period) brought in the New York City courts examined whether the kind of legal representation provided to parents can make a difference in the outcome of cases.  The study compared the outcome of cases based on whether parents were represented by solo practitioners who are experienced lawyers appointed to the Assigned Counsel Panel (panel lawyers) and parents who were represented by professionals who are part of a multi-disciplinary law office that includes lawyers, social workers and parent advocates (multidisciplinary representation).  

By isolating the kind of legal representation the parents received from among the many variables that distinguish the cases, the researchers were able to conclude that any difference in outcome of cases between the two groups is attributable to the kind of legal representation the parent received. A few key findings include: 


  • Multidisciplinary representation reduced children’s time in foster care by nearly 4 fewer months during the 48 months following the petition filing, through faster early reunification outcomes, as compared to Panel representation.  This amounts to up to nearly $40 million annual savings in foster care board rates for NYC. 
  • Children were just as safe with multidisciplinary representation.  Representation type did not impact whether children experienced a subsequent substantiated report of child maltreatment during the 24 months following the petition filing.   '
  • The interdisciplinary family defense offices were able to secure the safe return of children to their families approximately 43% more often in the first year than the solo lawyers and 25% more often in the second year. Giving parents the right kind of legal team means families are reunited significantly sooner than would otherwise happen. The family defense offices allowed children to be permanently released to relatives more than twice as often in the first year of a case and 67% more often in the second year. These families may otherwise have been permanently dissolved or the children may have spent their childhood separated from their family and aged out.
  • 27 percent more children would be reunified with their families within six months if their parents had multidisciplinary representation than if their parents had been assigned panel attorneys. 
  • Of those children who could not be returned to their families, 40% more children ended up with a permanent disposition of guardianships when their parents had multidisciplinary representation than children whose parents were represented by panel lawyers. 
  • If New York City still provided all children’s parents with panel attorneys, children would have spent approximately 470,000 extra days in foster care each year than if all parents were given family defense office representation. 

Here is link is to a press release on NYU's website:  The study was also covered by Law360.