Expediting Permanency: Legal Representation for Foster Children in Palm Beach County
This report describes the evaluation of the Foster Children's Project (FCP) of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Florida. The primary purpose of this study was to examine the impact of FCP on the nature and timing of children's permanency outcomes and juvenile court milestones. The study also identifies and describes the program elements or practices that serve to define FCP, and explores the broader impact that FCP has had on the child protective service system in Palm Beach County. Data were drawn from several sources, including juvenile court case files, child welfare administrative records, and interviews with legal and social service professionals.
Children represented by FCP were found to have a significantly higher rate of exit to permanency than children not served by FCP. In the main, this difference appears to be a function of much higher rates of adoption and long-term custody among FCP children. Interestingly, the higher rates of adoption and long-term custody experienced by FCP children were not found to be offset by significantly lower rates of reunification. Together, study findings suggest that FCP's efforts to individualize children's court-approved case plans served to clarify the basis of, and thus expedite, court decisions concerning parent and agency compliance with parent's case plan requirements. The study also discusses implications for other jurisdictions seeking to expedite permanency though juvenile court reforms, including the provision of representation to children.