Document Type

Article

Publication Date

2014

Abstract

Children may unnecessarily enter foster care because their parents are unable to resolve legal issues that affect their safety and well-being in their home.[...] Yet these kinds of legal needs for poor families are rarely met. On average, poor families experience at least one civil legal need per year, but only a small portion of those needs are satisfied. For about every six thousand people in poverty, there exists only one legal aid lawyer. So legal aid programs are forced to reject close to a million cases each year. This lack of legal services threatens the well-being of children[...] who may enter foster care if legal issues are left unresolved. This article describes the beginning of a movement across the country to address this problem. Multidisciplinary legal offices are emerging that provide preventive legal and social work advocacy to families at risk of losing children to foster care. These programs are new. The oldest office was formed in 2009 and only initial evaluations have occurred. But preliminary data suggests that they can have an enormous impact on preventing children from entering foster care. Not only do they keep children with their families, they also have the potential to save child welfare systems significant amounts of money by reducing the need to rely on foster care, which can be very costly. This article details how a family’s unmet legal needs can place a child at risk of entering foster care, discusses the developing model to address this need, and explores federal funding streams that can support the model.


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