(Photo: NadyaEugene/Shutterstock.com) (Photo: NadyaEugene/Shutterstock.com)

A newly released study says that multidisciplinary representation of parents in child welfare cases has multiple benefits when compared to traditional legal representation, including achieving family reunification more often in the early years and shortening children’s stays in foster care, according to a Bronx Defenders news release about the study.

The study, which examined more than 28,000 New York City child welfare cases, also found that “full implementation of a multidisciplinary representation model” would create some $40 million in annual savings for the foster care system, added the Bronx Defenders, which says it runs a multidisciplinary family defense office with teams of lawyers, social workers and parent advocates.

The study was conducted by New York University School of Law and is titled, “Effects of an interdisciplinary approach to parental representation in child welfare.”

Posted as a PDF on a ScienceDirect website, the study has multiple researchers and authors, from several universities and a research organization, and the study notes that it was supported by a “generous grant” from Casey Family Programs to New York University School of Law.

Its introduction notes that “many national child welfare and legal experts believe that effective representation for parents in child welfare cases serves the vital purpose of engaging parents, supporting the safety and well-being of children and families, reducing the need for foster care, and saving government dollars.”

According to the news release from the Bronx Defenders, the study is a “first of its kind,” and it examined city child welfare cases during the period of 2007 to 2014.

More specifically, the news release said that the study looked at parents assigned solo practitioner lawyers on an “Assigned Counsel Panel” versus lawyers who worked for one of three multidisciplinary city family defense offices: the Bronx Defenders, Brooklyn Defender Services and the Center for Family Representation.

And it found that interdisciplinary family defense offices achieved the safe return of children to their families approximately 43% more often in the first year versus solo practitioners, the Bronx Defenders said.

In the second year, it was 25 percent more often, the news release added.

A “Highlights” page at the end of the study’s PDF “Accepted Manuscript” report, which runs nearly 50 pages, says that:

  • Interdisciplinary lawyers for parents hasten permanency for children in foster care;
  • Interdisciplinary parental representation does not impact child maltreatment;
  • Interdisciplinary parental representation may save millions of government dollars;
  • Children who entered foster care spent 118 fewer days on average in foster care; and
  • Children achieved overall permanency, reunification and guardianship more quickly.

Contacts listed on the Bronx Defenders’ news release included representatives from Brooklyn Defender Services, the Center for Family Representation, The Bronx Defenders and Neighborhood Defender Services.

“The foster care system is not a substitute for loving families,” said Lauren Shapiro, director of Brooklyn Defender Services’ Family Defense Practice, in the news release.

“Interdisciplinary parent representation keeps families together and children out of foster care. There is a significant benefit when attorneys work collaboratively, have supervision and extensive training, and access to supports they need to provide zealous legal representation to their clients,” she added.