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August 2016Vol. 17, No. 6Multidisciplinary Parent Representation

When children cannot remain safely in their homes and placement in foster care becomes necessary, child welfare agencies must work diligently to reunite them with their birth parents (and/or concurrently plan to achieve another permanency goal). This can be a complicated and time-sensitive process involving a number of tasks and requirements, such as locating appropriate placements for children, identifying and securing services for parents, and arranging visits. To accomplish this successfully, child welfare agencies must effectively engage birth parents in all aspects of case planning, including ensuring they receive adequate legal assistance. An article by the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) explores the challenges child welfare agencies encounter when engaging parents, presents a new multidisciplinary parent representation strategy that integrates legal representation and parent mentorship, and addresses the importance of agency implementation of this strategy in their jurisdictions.

Studies show that outcomes for children improve when child welfare agencies are able to effectively engage parents—by including them in case planning efforts, giving them a voice in the decision-making process, and enabling them to advocate for themselves and their children by ensuring they're informed. However, despite the evidence of the importance of engaging parents, the field continues to struggle with this goal, and agencies may encounter difficulties engaging families for a number of reasons. For example, birth parents may mistrust the system and be reluctant to comply with services, or families may present with complex service needs that caseworkers may be unable to address.

Multidisciplinary parent representation, a strategy being implemented by legal offices across the country, provides birth parents with a collaborative legal team made up of an attorney, a social worker, and a parent mentor dedicated to supporting, guiding, advocating for, and otherwise helping parents navigate the complexities of the child welfare system. The CSSP article outlines each partners' role in the multidisciplinary team, and it presents promising preliminary data from parent representation programs in New York City and Washington State. Not only did the use of these teams prevent the need for foster care altogether for many children, reduce the length of stay in foster care for other children, and reduce the rate of foster care reentry, they also proved cost effective.

To read more, access the article, "Strange Bedfellows: How Child Welfare Agencies Can Benefit From Investing in Multidisciplinary Parent Representation," by Vivek S. Sankaran, Patricia L. Rideout, and Martha L. Raimon, on the CSSP website at (814 KB).