Category Archives: Other

Legal Representation for Parents and Children

Some of the saddest stories I hear are from parents who are desperately seeking quality legal assistance as they face termination of parental rights.

While 38 states provide a right to an attorney for parents, children may be removed before an attorney is appointed, and many attorneys have high caseloads, low pay, and little time to meet with and understand the parents’ situation.

But what are the outcomes with quality legal representation?  Washington state has provided legal representation for indigent parents for over a decade.  Six evaluations of the program, all favorable, show speedier reunifications and movement to permanent placements when reunification with parents is not possible.

The Center for Family Representation in New York provides every parent with an attorney, a social worker, and a parent advocate. Parent advocates are parents who had their children removed but were able to successfully reunify their families.  The parent team works together to problem-solve and identify resources. The model is a combination of legal representation, social work, and mentoring.  Parents report great satisfaction with the program and good outcomes.

Apart from the success of these programs, very few states are currently providing quality legal representation.  To address this need nationwide, the federal government recently authorized payment of up to 50% of the cost for legal representation for both parents and children.  This is the first time federal money has been authorized, and the money will come from the Title IV-E entitlement funds used to pay for foster care.

The problem remains how the states will pay for their share of the cost.  Most states have no dedicated funding stream for legal representation of parents and children.  Funding for attorneys does not come from child welfare system budgets but from other sources such as the courts.  The 50% federal match will go to the child welfare agency so agreements will need to be established between courts and child welfare systems.

Meanwhile, the federal Administration for Children and Families (ACF) has issued best practice standards for attorneys that include:

 Thoroughly prepare clients for court, explain the hearing process and debrief after hearings are completed to make sure clients understand the results. For children this must be done in a developmentally appropriate way.

 Regularly communicate with collateral contacts (i.e., treatment providers, teachers, social workers).

 Meet with clients outside of court (this provides attorneys an opportunity to observe clients in multiple environments and independently verify important facts).

 Have meaningful and ongoing conversation with all clients about their strengths, needs, and wishes.

 Regularly ask all clients what would be most helpful for his or her case, what is working, and whether there is any service or arrangement that is not helpful, and why.

 Work with every client to identify helpful relatives for support, safety planning and possible placement.

 Attend and participate in case planning, family group decision-making and other meetings a client may have with the child welfare agency.

 Work with clients individually to develop safety plan and case plan options to present to the court.


For more information on the ACF memo on high quality legal representation, visit

The Chronicle of Social Change has prepared a comprehensive overview of legal representation available here


Posted by Priscilla Martens,  NFPN Executive Director





Research-Supported Resources

At the beginning of each year, the National Family Preservation Network (NFPN) provides a list of resources available through our website.  Social services are increasingly required to be research-supported, especially with passage of the Family First Prevention Services Act that has a 50% federal match for programs that are evidence based. Since its beginning in 1992, NFPN has promoted research-supported tools, programs, and practice.  We have also conducted 9 research projects on our resources.  So, let’s take a look at some of these resources and the underlying research.  We’ll begin with preservation because that’s in our name!

In the largest study of Intensive Family Preservation Services (IFPS), Dr. Ray Kirk compared 1200 children who had received IFPS with 110,000 children who had not received these services.  IFPS outperformed traditional services in every case with greater improvement in family functioning, reducing the number of placements, and delaying placements.  You can read the research report here  Many agencies inquire about how to start or strengthen an IFPS program.  For a comprehensive overview of IFPS visit

One of the most important developments in the field of social work over the past two decades is the focus on family assessment.   Analysis of the initial Child and Family Services Reviews identified a link between comprehensive family assessments and good outcomes for families.  Guidelines for high-quality assessments are available here

NFPN partnered with Dr. Ray Kirk to develop one of the first assessment tools for reunifying families, the NCFAS-R.  Diverting families from the child welfare system resulted in the development of the NCFAS-G.  Generally, all grants and contracts now mandate trauma-informed practice.  In response, NFPN and Dr. Kirk developed the Trauma/Post-Trauma Well-Being assessment tool.  All of these assessment tools have successful reliability/validity studies.  For an overview of the research on the tools visit For information on and a description of each of the assessment tools (including Spanish versions) visit

In partnership with two child welfare agencies in Washington and California, NFPN conducted one of the first demonstration studies of father involvement.  With training, incentives, and support from administrators, social workers demonstrated improvement in identifying fathers as a resource and including them in the case plan and involving the father’s extended family in the case plan.  To view the project’s research reports visit  More information on father-involvement curricula and resources is available here:

NFPN offers training and technical assistance on all of its resources. Training packages and videos are available as well as onsite training and technical assistance by phone and email.  For agencies using the NCFAS-G+R assessment tool, video training is now available: The Substance Abuse and In-Home Video Training is especially relevant in the midst of a time of high misuse of drugs including opioids:

For more information on all resources and training/technical assistance, contact Priscilla Martens, NFPN Executive Director,, 888-498-9047.


Posted by Priscilla Martens, Executive Director

%d bloggers like this: