Training for Attorneys Representing Children Affects Some Child Welfare Outcomes
Most states require that children in child welfare cases be represented by attorneys. Most of these attorneys are solo practitioners or in small, general practice firms. Whether or not these attorneys add value to the decisions that are made, hearing the child’s voice and accurately representing it can have a real impact – for better or for worse.
What we did
We evaluated both the implementation and the impact of the QIC ChildRep intervention for attorneys representing children in child welfare cases. The intervention, developed by the University of Michigan Law School, was a two-day training on six core skills followed by quarterly supplemental training and regular coaching for a period of two and a half years. Two demonstration sites in Washington and Georgia implemented the program and participated in the evaluation. The study used an experimental design and evaluated attorney participation, attorney behavior, and child welfare outcomes.
What we found
Child-specific surveys of the Georgia attorneys showed that compared to control attorneys, treatment attorneys:
- met with their child client more frequently
- contacted more parties relevant to the case
- spent more time on cases
- and engaged in more advocacy activities.
Washington treatment attorneys also showed differences in behaviors in the expected direction:
- more contact with foster parents and substitute caregivers
- more time spent more time developing the theory of the case
- and more efforts to initiate a non-adversarial case resolution process.
For child outcomes, we found that despite these behavior changes, there was no difference in the likelihood of permanency, placement with kin, or placement change among children represented by treatment attorneys compared to control attorneys in either state.
However, we found that older children assigned to treatment attorneys in Washington State were 40 percent more likely than children represented by control attorneys to experience permanency within six months.
- Implementation of the QIC-ChildRep model showed an appetite among independent attorneys for learning from experts and from each other.
- Attorneys trained in the QIC-ChildRep model may achieve faster permanency for older children than attorneys not trained in this model.
What it means
States and local courts should consider this intervention model for continuing legal education for attorneys who represent children in the child welfare system. The program was not intensive – a total of 6-8 hours a year – but it changed attorney behaviors when compared to an equivalent control group. Our research also suggests that better-trained attorneys will be more able to address inefficiencies in the decision-making process in the placement experiences of older children.