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New York’s parent defender model lowers reliance on foster care []


New York City’s brand of wrap-around legal representation may not prevent the removal of children from their families. But they might be getting home much faster, and without any risk to their safety.

A much-anticipated study of parent representation released this week found that for parents represented by interdisciplinary law offices (ILO) – which include lawyers, social workers and parent advocates – youth spend about four fewer months in foster care than in cases represented by panel-appointed “solo practitioner” lawyers.

“I’ve supervised a lot of evaluations of interventions where you see really small differences. It can be frustrating in a field like child welfare,” said Tim Ross, founder and managing partner of Action Research and a co-author on the study. “But here you can see really meaningful impacts. Four months is huge for a kid, for the family, and huge for the public.”

New York University Law Professor Martin Guggenheim, a study co-author and one of the original architects of the interdisciplinary model, heralded the study as a major step forward for the cause of robust parent representation.

“My plan has always been to try to persuade the powers that be that family defense is their best friend, and that we are a preventative and reunification service,” Guggenheim said, in an interview with The Chronicle of Social Change. “The federal and local governments should now invest in the right kind of family defense.”

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