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December/January 2019Vol. 19, No. 10High-Quality Legal Representation in Child Welfare Proceedings

The Administration for Children and Families within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released an Information Memorandum (IM) that highlights important research, best practices, and strategies to promote and sustain high-quality legal representation for all parents, children, and child welfare agencies in all stages of child welfare proceedings. The intended audience comprises state, tribal, and territorial agencies administering or supervising the administration of titles IV-E and IV-B of the Social Security Act; Indian tribes and Indian tribal organizations; state courts; and state and tribal court improvement programs.

Research has shown that quality legal representation for children and their parents leads to the following positive outcomes:

  • Increased perceptions of fairness and a better understanding of the child welfare system
  • Increased engagement in case planning, services, and court hearings, especially if attorneys are appointed early in the case-planning process
  • More personally tailored and specific case plans and services
  • Increased visitation and parenting time
  • Less time in out-of-home care
  • Increased cost savings to state governments as a result of children and youth spending less time in care

According to the IM, children and their parents and title IV-E/IV-B agencies are all parties to child welfare proceedings and, therefore, all have the right to legal counsel, as they all may be required to provide sworn testimony under oath in court, cross-examined, and subject to court orders. Having adequate legal representation helps to mitigate the trauma families experience during difficult times and keep these families together by making sure they are receiving the supports they need and that their voices are heard.

To read "ACYF-CB-IM-17-02: High Quality Legal Representation for All Parties in Child Welfare Proceedings," visit (290 KB).