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January 2002Vol. 3, No. 1Using Legal Strategies to Help Keep Families Together

A recently published book by the American Bar Association's Center for Children and the Law advocates that child protective services (CPS) programs team with civil legal services lawyers to help troubled families.

Keeping Kids Out of the System: Creative Legal Practice as a Community Child Protection Strategy focuses on the range of appropriate legal services available to families. "While some cases do require the State to safeguard children [by taking custody], other families only need shortstop help to keep their problems from snowballing," writes author Leigh Goodmark.

The book contains sections devoted to various kinds of family problems, describing specific legal programs that can address the particular problems and avoid CPS intervention. These cases involve:

  • Families affected by HIV/AIDS
  • Domestic violence
  • Kinship care
  • Mental health/substance abuse
  • Special education
  • Incarcerated mothers
  • Income maintenance, public benefits, child care, housing
  • Children and youth seeking legal services.

Each section provides a description of a program and its services, how the programs "shortstop" child protection actions, and how the program is funded and staffed. Additionally, profiles of "average" clients, information about the program's partnerships, and challenges are included.

In the final chapters, Goodmark explains how legal services lawyers work to ensure appropriate CPS intervention and to bring about systemic change. She also describes how lawyers are creating new approaches to service delivery by entering into nontraditional partnerships and settings, such as schools, community centers, and hospitals.

Goodmark concludes with a "Checklist for Change" containing ideas to start collaborating across systems, for example, hosting a brown bag lunch for CPS workers and local legal services providers.

Copies of Keeping Kids Out of the System: Creative Legal Practice as a Community Child Protection Strategy are available for $25.00 by calling the ABA Service Center at 1-800-285-2221 (order number 5490310).

Contact information:

Leigh Goodmark, Esq.
American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law
740 15th St., NW
Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-662-1758

Related Item

Visit the Publications page of the National Clearinghouse on Child Abuse and Neglect Information website ( for the following related item:

  • Community Responsibility for Child Protection