High Quality Legal Representation for All Parties in Child Welfare Proceedings

By: HHS Administration for Children and Families, Children’s Bureau. Published on January 7, 2017.

Link to memo

Link to PDF

The memo begins by stating the role of the courts in the child welfare system as courts review decisions about both the family and the child. The memo states that legal representation for families in child welfare proceedings is associated with increases in perceptions of fairness; engagement in case planning, services, and court hearings; lends to better tailored services; increases in visitation and parenting time; expedited permanency; and cost savings to the state.

Highlights include:

  • “The decisions courts make in child welfare proceedings are serious and life changing. Parents stand the possibility of permanently losing custody and contact with their children. Children and youth are subject to court decisions that may forever change their family composition, as well as connections to culture and heritage. Despite the gravity of these cases and the rights and liabilities at stake, parents, children and youth do not always have legal representation.” (p. 2)
  • “Attorneys for public child welfare agencies play a crucial role in ensuring that the child welfare agency presents evidence of its diligence in working with families, that reasonable efforts are made, and that there are not undue delays in service provision, case planning or other vital services to keep families safe, together and strong.” (p. 4)
  • “Concern over the rights of children in care has resulted in federal class action lawsuits alleging civil rights violations. Such lawsuits cost state governments hundreds of millions of dollars in legal defense expenses. It stands to reason that high quality legal representation for all parties may help ensure greater system accountability, thereby reducing the likelihood that such lawsuits are filed in the first place.” (p. 4)
  • “In cases involving an Indian child, it is critical that the right of tribes to intervene and participate in proceedings under ICWA is honored and that an attorney or other representative of the tribe be noticed, present if the tribe deems it appropriate, or otherwise able to fully represent the tribe of which the child is a member or eligible for membership.” (p. 4)


Categories: Children, Family, Family, Legal Aid Attorneys, Legal Aid Practitioners, National, Policymakers and Funders

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