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September 2008Vol. 9, No. 7Foster Children's Legal Representatives Work to Expedite Permanency

Many children younger than age 12 in foster care in Palm Beach County, FL, are provided legal representation through the Foster Children's Project (FCP), a program supported by the Children's Services Council of Palm Beach County and the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County. A new report from the Chapin Hall Center for Children, Expediting Permanency: Legal Representation for Foster Children in Palm Beach County, presents an evaluation of FCP's impact on the nature and timing of foster children's permanency outcomes and juvenile court milestones. The legal representatives in the program filed motions on behalf of children, filed petitions for termination of parental rights, recruited adoptive homes, attended staffings and case plan meetings, and provided advocacy and support to the children. These activities were intended to keep cases moving through the system to permanency.

The findings show that children represented by FCP had a significantly higher rate of exit to permanency than children not served by FCP. There were higher rates of adoption and long-term custody among FCP children. Results suggest that FCP's efforts to individualize children's court-approved case plans served to clarify the basis of, and thus expedite, court decisions concerning parent and agency compliance with parents' case plan requirements. The study also discusses possible disadvantages of the program, reactions of social workers, and implications for other jurisdictions seeking to expedite permanency though juvenile court reforms, including the provision of representation to children.

The report, by Andrew E. Zinn and Jack Slowriver, is available for download from the Chapin Hall website: