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April 2011Vol. 12, No. 3Effective Legal Representation and Advocacy for Parents

The effectiveness of a program in Washington State to provide quality legal representation for parents whose children have been removed from their custody is the focus of a new study conducted by Partners for Our Children. The Parents Representation Program was developed by the Washington State Office of Public Defense (OPD) and the Washington State Legislature to enhance the quality of defense representation for parents in dependency and termination hearings. The program aims to reduce the number of continuances requested by attorneys, limit caseloads, and support the work of parents’ attorneys by ensuring they have reasonable time to prepare cases and work with clients. The program provides social workers, expert resources, periodic trainings, and oversight through OPD.

In the study, researchers Mark E. Courtney and Jennifer L. Hook found that the availability of adequate parental legal representation speeds children's reunification with parents. For those children who are not reunited with parents, it hastens permanency through adoption and guardianship.

Partners for Our Children is a collaboration between the University of Washington and the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. Results of the study are reported in a discussion paper, executive summary, and an issue brief, all of which are available on the Partners for Our Children website:

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The positive child and family outcomes that can be achieved through effective parental advocacy is the focus of a recent issue of Rise Magazine. “From Rights to Reality: A Plan for Parent Advocacy and Family-Centered Child Welfare Reform” identifies 15 rights for parents affected by the child welfare system. Stories from real families illustrate the damage that can occur when these rights are denied and the positive outcomes that are possible when parents have the opportunity to work with parent advocates. (918 KB)