March 10, 2021 Feature

How Family Defender Offices in New York City Are Able to Safely Reduce the Time Children Spend in Foster Care

Martin Guggenheim


This is the third in a series of articles discussing the results of child welfare cases in which parents in New York City were represented by a new form of legal services provision: family defender offices whose staff include social workers, parent advocates, and lawyers. The first article, Effects of an Interdisciplinary Approach to Parental Representation in Child Welfare, was published in 2019.1 It described the results of a multiyear study in New York City that compared the outcomes of child welfare cases in which parents were represented by multidisciplinary family defender offices with cases in which parents were represented by solo practitioners assigned from a rotating panel of lawyers.2 The outcomes were dramatically better in cases handled by these offices, as measured by the reduced amount of time children were kept from their parents’ custody as compared with parents whose lawyers were solo practitioners.3 The second article was a qualitative analysis that described the interviews conducted of a wide group of professionals and former clients who work closely with the two different kinds of legal representation models that were compared.4 That article revealed the opinions of a broad range of professionals working in the courts on what distinguishes the family defender offices’ practice from the work done by panel lawyers.5

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