April 01, 2015

ABA Releases New Measures for Representing Indigent Parents

The views expressed herein have not been approved by the House of Delegates or the Board of Governors of the American Bar Association, and accordingly, should not be construed as representing the policy of the American Bar Association.

The ABA Center on Children and the Law has released Indicators of Success for Parent Representation, new national measures to help states ensure that all indigent parents involved in the child welfare system receive high-quality legal representation. States and courts will use this tool to measure the impact of rule, policy or practice changes on parent representation. 

Developed with the Court Improvement Leaders from the Administration for Children Youth and Families’ Federal Region VI and Casey Family Programs, the indicators represent a continuum from quantitative to more qualitative measures to provide jurisdictions with options for continuous quality improvement. 

Ensuring due process and giving clients a voice in the court system are the ultimate goals for all stakeholders working to improve the quality of representation for parents involved in the child welfare system. This tool will assist states in achieving these goals. 

The tool includes the Indicators for Success for Parent Representation, a paper describing the Region VI Leadership Forum focused on Parent Representation and the ABA Standards of Practice for Attorneys Representing Parents, on which the indicators were based. The document therefore describes what high-quality representation for parents includes, suggested strategies for achieving this level of representation and a method for measuring the impact of the reform. The indicators provide many measures from which a jurisdiction could choose to use as well as suggestions on sources of data already available in most states.

While the indicators cover 14 categories of attorney practice, the drafting committee urges jurisdictions to pay particular attention to four indicators that are most closely aligned with achieving positive outcomes for children and families: 

  • Reasonable caseloads

  • Access to multidisciplinary staff, including social workers and parent mentors 

  • Representation out of court, including presence at mediation and family team meetings and communicating with the child welfare agency

  • Measuring the time that children spend in out-of-home care, as quality parent representation decreases the time to safe permanency

Attorneys at the Center on Children and the Law are available to provide technical assistance to jurisdictions seeking to implement the indicators and improve representation for parents and children. For more information, contact Mimi Laver.