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Family Justice Initiative

A collaboration of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, the Children’s Law Center of California, and Center for Family Representation

Research on Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases


This chart summarizes research on the impact of legal representation
on child welfare outcomes and other aspects of child welfare attorney
[CHILD REPRESENTATION
practice. Choose from the links to the right or the spreadsheet tabs
below to view research on representation for children, parents, or PARENT REPRESENTATION
children and parents together. Sort data by selecting the dropdown
arrows next to the headings. CHILD & PARENT REPRESENTATION
Study Type Date Title Brief Overview Publisher
Program 2017 Evaluation of The evaluation examined the relationship between a Colorado's Office of the
evaluation/not Multidisciplinary Law multidisciplinary approach to children's Child Representative
experimental design Office Pilot Project representation and a number of projected outcomes,
Colorado Office of the including predictable costs, heightened oversight and
Child's Representative accountability, consistent high-quality advocacy, and
amplified child's voice in proceedings. Comparative
analysis of independent attorney v. multidisciplinary
law office attorney performance and case outcomes
did not consistently favor the multidisciplinary law
office structure. For example, clients of
multidisciplinary law offices had a lower rate of
attendance at court hearings, and a statistically
significant higher rate of removal.
Quasi-experimental 2017 The Nature and Using a sample of 168 child representatives in Georgia Family Court Review
design Determinants of Child and Washington State, this study examines the
Representation Practice in relative significance of various case-related activities
Child Welfare Cases and how these vary as a function of case- and
attorney-level characteristics. Based on the findings,
the study concludes that attorney activities are
influenced by a combination of case and attorney
characteristics, suggesting several distinct avenues for
improving legal representation for children in
dependency cases.
Quasi-experimental 2017 The Organization of Child This study of 126 attorneys in Washington State Family Court Review
design Representation Services in compares children's lawyers working in solo practice,
Child Welfare Cases: A private law firms, and specialty staff attorney offices.
Study of Washington State The manner in which child representation is organized
has lessons for the recruitment, training, and support
of such lawyers. Staff attorney offices offer a number
of advantages but rural areas with fewer cases may
not be able to support such offices and the attorneys
in specialty offices were less experienced and
reported lower incomes.

Overview 2017 Characteristics of Explores characteristics, experiences and Family Law Quarterly
Attorneys Representing circumstances of attorneys representing children in
Children in Child Welfare Washington State and 19 Georgia counties.
Cases
Overview 2016 Measuring the Impact of Overview of research challenges related to evaluating First Focus/State Policy
Children's Right to Counsel: impact of client-directed children's representation. Advocacy & Reform
Advancing Child Due Proposal re: what should be evaluated when Center
Process and Well-being in reviewing this model of representation, including: due
the Juvenile Court Ecology process outcomes (case outcomes and client
engagement in proceedings); and well-being
indicators (defining activities and advancing
accountability).
Evaluation/not 2016 Defending Our Children: A Review of children's representation in Washington University of
experimental design Child's Access to Justice in State found 23% of children in observed hearings have Washington School of
Washington State neither a nonattorney guardian ad litem nor an Law
attorney to represent them.
2015 Expressed-Interest Legal Looking at a combination of administrative data and Family Court Review
Representation for court record review, study evaluated the impact of
Children in Substitute Care: the Foster Children's Project (FCP), which provides
Evaluation of the Impact of professional legal representation to children in foster
Representation on care. Found that representation by FCP increased the
Children's Permanency rate of children's exit to adoption, leading to faster
Quasi-experimental Outcomes permanence, but did not impact reunification rates
design
Experimental design 2015 Evaluation of the QIC- The rigorous evaluation conducted by Chapin Hall Chapin Hall
ChildRep Best Practices showed that treatment attorneys changed their
Model Training for behaviors to align with the intervention model
Attorneys Representing compared to control attorneys who did not receive
Children in the Child the intervention. For one subgroup of children--older
Welfare System children appointed an attorney early in their case--a
statistically significant treatment effect was found for
permanency within six months. The study also
revealed that attorneys who were largely
independent and isolated have an appetite for
learning from experts and from each other.
Evaluation/not 2012 Examining Regional Found that court policy and practice affect duration of Children and Youth
experimental design Variation in Extending care for foster youth beyond 18. Contrary to author's Services Review
Foster Care Beyond 18: hypothesis, higher caseloads were associated with
Evidence from Illinois longer stays in care.
Evaluation/not 2010 Assessing the Quality of Evaluation of court-appointed lawyers for children in Juvenile Law Center
experimental design Child Advocacy in Pennsylvania found that many lawyers throughout the
Dependency Proceedings state do not comply with the juvenile act
in Pennsylvania requirements, or ABA Standards of Practice.

Evaluation/not 2010 NACC Study: Evaluation of Evaluation of children's attorneys in Nebraska found National Association of
experimental design Guardian Ad Litem System that children's attorneys generally act as a "rubber Counsel for Children
in Nebraska stamp" for child welfare agency actions. Attorneys
routinely do not tell the court what their client wants,
are insufficiently familiar with their client's cases, and
in some cases have excessively high caseloads.

Evaluation/not 2009 Evaluation of the Guardian Evaluation of Nebraska guardians ad litem (GALs) National Association of
experimental design Ad Litem System in found that Nebraska’s current structure for providing Counsel for Children
Nebraska GAL services results in uneven performance and lack
of accountability.
Program 2008 Practices Relating to the Assessment of practices related to appointing counsel Washington State Office
evaluation/not Appointment of Counsel for adolescents in dependency proceedings in of Civil Legal Aid
experimental design for Adolescents in Juvenile Washington State. Evaluation found that practices
Court Dependency relating to appointing counsel varied throughout the
Proceedings in Washington state, with a substantial percentage of youth being
State unrepresented. In addition, compensation rates and
training of attorneys varied throughout the state.
Evaluation/not 2008 Continuing in Foster Care Finding that guardians ad litem in particular Illinois Chapin Hall
experimental design Beyond Age 18: How counties were reported to be the "strongest influence
Courts Can Help on the county's high rate of retention" of youth in
care beyond age 18, which in turn leads to improved
outcomes for youth. Jurisdictions demonstrating high
rates of court advocacy on behalf of foster youth
exhibit the highest rates of retaining youth in care
beyond age 18.

Quasi-experimental 2008 A Comparison of Types of Study looked at the type of legal representation Child Abuse & Neglect
design Attorney Representation children in dependency proceedings receive (county
for Children in California affiliated -- district attorney, public defender, county
Juvenile Court Dependency counsel v. independent -- private firm, panel of court-
Cases appointed attorneys). Analysis suggested that
children with independent representation
experienced fewer foster care placements.

Experimental design 2008 Expediting Permanency: Children represented by Foster Children's Project of Chapin Hall
Legal Representation of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, FL, were
Foster Children in Palm found to have significantly higher rate of exit to
Beach County permanency (most notably adoption, but this was not
offset by lower rate of reunification.) Children with
FCP attorneys also had more individualized case plans.
Family Justice Initiative
A collaboration of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, the Children’s Law Center of California, and Center for Family Representation

Research on Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases


This chart summarizes research on the impact of legal representation
CHILD REPRESENTATION
on child welfare outcomes and other aspects of child welfare attorney
practice. Choose from the links to the right or the spreadsheet tabs
[PARENT REPRESENTATION
below to view research on representation for children, parents, or
children and parents together. Sort data by selecting the dropdown
CHILD & PARENT REPRESENTATION
arrows next to the headings.
Study Type Date Title Brief Overview Publisher
Program 2005 Detroit Center for Family Evaluation of: (1) pre-petition parent representation; and University of Michigan
evaluation/not Advocacy Pilot (2) post-adjudication "permanency" cases (representing Law School
experimental design Evaluation Report clients where there is a legal barrier to permanency).
Multidisciplinary model. Evaluation findings: pre-petition
cases resulted in no children entering foster care; for
permanency cases the legal barrier to permanency was
eliminated in 95.7% of cases. Surveys indicated high-levels
of client satisfaction. This evaluation was not an
experimental design.
Quasi-experimental 2016 Legal Representation in Pilot study in Texas found that cases where attorneys for Family Court Review
design the Juvenile parents were appointed within 10 days of petition filing
Dependency System: had more permanent outcomes (e.g. reunification) than
Texas' Parent cases in which attorneys were appointed later.
Representation Pilot
Project
Program 2014 The Center for Family Self-evaluation of multidisciplinary model of parent Center for Family
evaluation/not Representation: 2014 representation reported: 50% of clients' children never Representation
experimental design Report to the enter foster care; 5 month shorter stay than city median of
Community 11.5 months before multidisciplinary model implemented;
7% of children who reunify re-enter care within one year,
as opposed to 15% of children in New York state who
reunify.
Quasi-experimental 2013 Assessing a Parent Compared case-level differences between parents that National Council of
design Representation Program were involved in an attorney representation pilot program Juvenile and Family
in Texas versus those that were not. Comparison between different Court Judges (website)
counties. Found appointed counsel sooner, attorneys in
pilot cases were present at more hearings, and pilot cases
were more likely to have a positive outcome (defined as
return/dismissal or relative/guardianship).

Quasi-experimental 2013 Exploring Outcomes Review of cases where parents were provided an attorney National Council of
design Related to Legal vs. cases where parents were not provided an attorney Juvenile and Family
Representation for found "trend toward more positive outcomes when Court Judges (website)
Parents Involved in parents had an attorney." Review sample size was small.
Mississippi's Juvenile
Dependency System
Evaluation/not 2013 Legal Representation for Assessment of legal representation for parents in North American Bar
experimental design Parents in Child Welfare Carolina looked at how well parent attorneys are meeting Association & North
Proceedings: A basic obligations (continuances were not problematic as Carolina Office of
Performance-Based had been found in other states, training was identified as Indigent Defense
Analysis of North an additional need); what is the quality of attorney/client Services
Carolina Practice relationships (need to focus on maintaining connection
with client outside court); how well are attorneys prepared
(not well as rated by judges); how good is courtroom
advocacy (little use of experts and motion practice); how
does the system structurally support quality representation
(timing of appointment a strength, compensation a
weakness).

Overview 2012 High-Quality Legal Overview of impact of quality legal representation for Family Law Quarterly
Representation for parents on reunification outcomes in select areas in New
Parents in Child Welfare York, Washington, and Michigan.
Cases Results in
Improved Outcomes for
Families and Potential
Cost-Savings
Experimental design 2011 Evaluation of the Impact Evaluation of the impact of enhanced parent Children and Youth
of Enhanced Legal representation program of the Washington State Office of Service Review
Representation on the Public Defense on timeliness of permanency outcomes for
Timing of Permanency children in foster care. Found an 11% higher exit rate to
Outcomes for Children reunification, meaning that children were spending almost
in Foster Care a month less time in foster care. Additionally
Children in counties with enhanced parent representation
reached reunification, guardianship, and adoption
outcomes more quickly. Components of enhanced parent
representation include: reasonable compensation and
reduced caseloads; oversight; access to experts and social
workers; attorney oversight and evaluation.

Quasi-experimental 2011 Effects of Parental and Reviewing a random selection of case files from four Children and Youth
design Attorney Involvement on Colorado counties and three California counties (403 Service Review
Reunification in Juvenile Colorado case files (28% ended in reunification) and 119
Dependency Cases California case files (58% ended in reunification),
researchers found the presence of mother and mother's
counsel at early hearings (preliminary protective hearing,
adjudication, and first review hearing) were significant
predictors of the rate of reunification (i.e. more likely to
reunify and more timely reunification). For fathers, the
presence of father and counsel at the disposition hearing
was a significant predictor of the rate of reunification.

Evaluation/not 2011 Legal Representation for Assessment of legal representation for parents in Wyoming American Bar
experimental design Parents in Child Welfare found that most attorneys have adequate court room Association
Proceedings: an analysis skills, but that attorney training is not required,
of Wyoming practice compensation is not uniform throughout the state,
attorney/client relationships are weakened by lack of
advocacy between court hearings, appointment of
attorneys is not consistent.
Quasi-experimental 2010 Reunification and Case Implementation of Office of Public Defense Parent Center for Court
design Resolution Representation Program resulted in increase in Research and
Improvements in Office reunification rate, and faster case resolutions. Washington State
of Public Defense Parent Office of Public Defense
Representation Program
Counties

Evaluation/not 2009 Legal Representation for Assessment of legal representation for parents in Michigan American Bar
experimental design Parents in Child Welfare found parent attorneys had skills needed for in-court Association
Proceedings: A advocacy, but attorney-client relationships were impacted
performance-based by use of substitute counsel, attorneys did not meet with
analysis of Michigan parents between court appearances, parents needed to be
practice treated with more respect, and compensation was
inadequate.
Overview 2007 Giving Families a Overview of then current model of representation for Connecticut Voices for
Chance: Necessary parents in Connecticut and call for reforms to ensure Children
Reforms for the adequacy of legal representation.
Adequate
Representation of
Connecticut's Children
and Families in Child
Abuse and Neglect Cases
Overview 2007 Colorado Court Review and analysis of respondent parents' counsel National Center for
Improvement Program: practices in three Colorado sites and barriers to effective State Courts, National
Respondent Parents' representation of families in child dependency and neglect Council of Juvenile and
Counsel Task Force cases. Identified as barriers to parent attorney Family Court Judges,
Statewide Needs performance: high caseloads, compensation, lack of National Association of
Assessment support services and resources, training, lack of services, Counsel for Children
and discovery issues. Found parent attorneys perform well
given limited resources and opportunities but there is
room for improvement that depends on reforming
practice, administration, and court systems. Includes 15
global recommendations addressing attorney performance
and systems change.

Quasi-experimental 2005 Dependency and Evaluation of 2000 legislative funding appropriation to Washington State
design Termination Parent's Office of Public Defense Parent Representation Program to Office of Public Defense
Representation Program strengthen parent representation in juvenile courts in 2
Evaluation Report 2005 counties. Documented the program’s outcomes, and
helped describe factors that have led to the program’s
successes and challenges.
Evaluation/not 2003 Improving Parents' Evaluation of enhanced parent representation pilot National Council of
experimental design Representation in program found increase in rate of reunification in pilot Juvenile and Family
Dependency Cases: A jurisdictions, as well as shorter stays in foster care. Court Judges
Washington State Pilot
Program Evaluation
Overview 2002 Implementing Equal Overview of enhanced legal representation program that National Council of
Justice for Parents in has substantially improved case outcomes and discussion Juvenile and Family
Washington: A Dual of a statewide committee using innovative means to Court Judges
Approach examine systemic responses to the challenges of the
Adoption and Safe Families Act.
Family Justice Initiative
A collaboration of the ABA Center on Children and the Law, the Children’s Law Center of California, and Center for Family Representation

Research on Legal Representation in Child Welfare Cases


This chart summarizes research on the impact of legal representation
on child welfare outcomes and other aspects of child welfare attorney CHILD REPRESENTATION
practice. Choose from the links to the right or the spreadsheet tabs
PARENT REPRESENTATION
below to view research on representation for children, parents, or
children and parents together. Sort data by selecting the dropdown
[CHILD & PARENT REPRESENTATION
arrows next to the headings.
Type of Study Date Title Brief Overview Publisher
Evaluation/not May, 2011; May, Moving Children to Evaluation of training for children's and parents' Pennsylvania Office of
experimental design 2012; 2013 Timely Permanence: attorneys found that attorneys increased Children and Families in the
Training for Legal knowledge/understanding of new concepts after Courts
Representation for training.
Children and Parents
Evaluation/not May 2014; May Moving Children to Review of efforts to improve legal representation Pennsylvania Office of
experimental design 2015 Timely Permanence for parents and children in Pennsylvania, Children and Families in the
through high quality including caseload size analysis and Courts
Legal Representation; recommendations. Recommended no more than
2015 Pennsylvania 66 child clients and 87 parent clients.
State Roundtable
Report
Evaluation/not 2011 Legal Representation Review of state of representation in Texas for Texas Children's Commission
experimental design Study: Assessment of dependency cases. Study found low
Appointed compensation, varying quality, and little
Representation in Texas accountability among attorneys throughout the
Child-Protection state.
Proceedings
Overview 2008 The State of Juvenile Overview of research related to child welfare National Council of Juvenile
Dependency Court courts between 1997 and 2007. Results found and Family Court Judges
Research: Implications that 76 studies published. One quarter from (website)
for Practice and Policy academic journals and three-quarters non-peer
reviewed publications. Few studies addressed
outcome measures and most were descriptive.
Few employed experimental design.

Evaluation/not 2008 Dependency Counsel Evaluation of parent/children representation Judicial Council of California
experimental design Caseload Standards: A program (involving training, oversight, and
Report to the California caseload standards) found that counties
Legislature implementing program components had an
increase in family reunification rates and greater
placement with kin.
Overview 2004 Dependency Counsel Study and analysis of caseload standards for California Administrative
Caseload Study and children and parents' attorneys, and service Office of the Courts
Service Delivery Model delivery models for dependency counsel.
Analysis