April 12, 2016 Articles

A New Resource—Representing Parents in Child Welfare Cases: Advice and Guidance for Family Defenders

By Mimi Laver

We have arrived! By that I mean the field of family defense is now officially on the map with the new book Representing Parents in Child Welfare Cases: Advice and Guidance for Family Defenders. This publication, the first of its kind for lawyers who represent parents in child welfare cases, takes an in-depth look at what it means to provide high-quality representation. Professors Martin Guggenheim and Vivek Sankaran gathered 17 of the leaders in the field, many of whom serve as Steering Committee members for the ABA Parent Representation Project, to write this extensive manual. In an interview for the ABA Center on Children and the Law's Child Law Practice, Professor Guggenheim explained some of what the book offers:

The preface and Chapter One are designed to pull people into the field. They were written to help you appreciate that this is a subject worthy of one's attention and that it delves into some of the most important and complicated constitutional questions the Supreme Court addresses.

Claire Chiamulera, "Representing Parents in Child Welfare Cases—Inside the Book with Martin Guggenheim and Vivek Sankaran," (login required) 35 Child L. Prac., Jan. 2016.

The rest of the book is focused on how to be a parent defender and to be good at this work—whether a novice or a long-timer. The authors discuss basic things lawyers should be doing in each case as well as sophisticated ways to do them better.

Professor Sankaran goes on to explain how to use this book:

It's not a book that you need to sit down and read from start to finish. It's one that can be read independently looking at the different chapters. If you are a reader interested in systemic change, then you should start with Joanne Moore's chapter on systemic change. Everybody should start reading the Introduction to frame it; it's not very long. From there, look at the Table of Contents and figure out what's on your mind right now. The book is intended to be read out of order based on the topics.


In this book, the authors explain who the clients are: generally poor, uneducated women of color who often lose their children to the child welfare system for reasons directly related to poverty. Like all clients who are accused of wrongdoing, they are entitled to high-quality lawyers who know how best to support them. Research shows that high-quality lawyers improve outcomes for children by assisting their parents in accessing needed supportive services so the children can remain at home or return home safely in a timely manner. Research also shows that children who are raised by their families have better outcomes than those who are removed. To do their job well, parents' lawyers need information about services, assistance for their clients from professionals like social workers and parent mentors, and training. Representing Parents provides invaluable information for lawyers about each phase of a case from challenging removalthrough defending at a termination of parental rights hearing and appeal, as well as concrete information needed when working with clients who fall within special categories—such as those with disabilities, parents involved in the criminal justice system, and noncitizens—or when handling cases in which the Indian Child Welfare Act applies.

Representing parents, and doing it well, can be satisfying for the lawyer as well as the client, as Professor Guggenheim shared:

What always kept me eager to be involved in this field was, first, the extraordinary feeling it provides to save a family, to keep a family together. It is a field where excellent lawyering makes a difference. We don't just win judgments for some monetary award. We save families—the most important relationship in the world. We make it possible for children to be raised in their homes and for parent and adult caregivers who love their kids to have the great joy and human right to raise them. It's hard to think of something of greater importance.

Id. See also Martin Guggenheim, "The Role of Counsel in Representing Parents," (login required) 35 Child. L. Prac., Feb. 2016.

This book gives parents' lawyers the perspective and knowledge they need to provide their clients with excellent representation so that families will remain intact and children can thrive.

To order the book, visit the ABA Store.

Keywords: litigation, children's rights, Representing Parents in Child Welfare Cases: Advice and Guidance for Family Defenders

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Mimi Laver – April 12, 2016