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August 21, 2018

Parental Representation

The ABA expressed support Aug. 16 for the objectives of the New York State Commission on Parental Legal Representation, which is holding a series of hearings this fall. The commission is gathering information on steps to ensure quality representation for those eligible for assigned counsel in family law matters. Governmental Affairs Director Thomas M. Susman, in comments submitted to commission Chair Karen Peters, said the ABA Center on Children and the Law has partnered with other members of the legal community to define and implement models of high-quality representation for parents in child welfare cases. These efforts resulted in the 2006 Standards of Practice for Attorneys Representing Parents in Abuse and Neglect Cases and the 2007 Attributes of High Quality Representation for Children and Parents. Pointing out that, historically, parents who are involved in the child-welfare system have received sub-par, and sometimes no, legal representation, Susman emphasized that family outcomes improve when all parties have high-quality representation. Susman described the details of some of the most crucial elements needed to establish a system of high-quality representation: reasonable caseloads; timely appointment; interdisciplinary support; and a strong oversight structure. “Child welfare cases are fundamentally different from other civil family cases and criminal cases,” he said, adding that separating a child from his or her parents causes harm and trauma and “should only occur when the safety of the child is compromised.” He concluded that parents’ lawyers play a “unique and essential role” in ensuring that families thrive.