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February 22, 2019 Practice Points

New Federal Policy Invests in Counsel for Children in Child Welfare Cases

By Cathy Krebs

The Children’s Bureau (CB) at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently update the Child Welfare Policy Manual, Section 8.1. to allow states to draw federal funds from Title IV-E to help pay for legal representation of children and parents in child welfare cases. This policy change allows states to claim legal representation for children or parents as Title IV-E administrative costs, which means that federal funds can provide a 50 percent match for any state and county dollars contributed to the legal defense of either party. This is a momentous change which provides an opportunity to not simply save the state money but expand and improve representation. While there is still no requirement for states to provide lawyers, this change encourages states that do not currently provide lawyers to children and parents to do so. ABA President Bob Carlson wrote a letter to HHS Secretary Alex M. Azar II, commending him on this rule change and summarizing the research that has analyzed the difference that lawyers make in child welfare cases. The federal government will likely be releasing guidance on how to operationalize this change, however there is no need to wait. Lawyers can work with their local court improvement projects and Title IV-E experts right now to discuss how to implement this change in their states. For more ideas on how to get started, start here.

Cathy Krebs is the committee director of the Children's Rights Litigation Committee.

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