How to Take on America’s Screwed-Up Foster Care System and Win

One thing was clear: Vanessa's future as a parent was at risk, and she needed a lawyer. The J.C. Penney clerk was living in a homeless shelter, and would probably need a social worker, too.

News Story (NATIONAL, New York)

Michael Fitzgerald
September 30, 2019

Tags: Child Welfare

Organizations mentioned/involved: Center for Family Representation (NYC)


Vanessa’s lawyer and social worker were provided for free by a legal aid nonprofit called the Center for Family Representation (CFR), which employs lawyers, social workers and peer advocates to support parents facing child welfare cases. These arrangements aren’t rare in New York City—three other nonprofits, known as interdisciplinary legal offices, are providing a similar mix of services: Bronx Defenders, Neighborhood Defender Service of Harlem, and Brooklyn Defender Services.

By contrast, across most of the country, many lawyers who work these cases often do so by themselves or in small private law firms, where they’re paid hourly by their state. Support and training can be inconsistent, making the job harder no matter the quality or experience of the lawyer, according to conversations with many attorneys who do this work. And the parents in question are often only able to seek social workers on a case-by-case basis, through cumbersome requests filed with the courts.