Legal and Judicial Issues in Child Welfare


  • Guidance to the States: Recommendations for Developing Family Drug Court Guidelines
    The Center for Children and Family Futures (CCFF) released this publication, prepared by the Office of Juvenile Justice Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), which provides guidance for local and state policymakers and practitioners to implement best practices in providing effective family drug court (FDC) services.  Well-functioning FDCs bring together substance abuse treatment (in lieu of incarceration), mental health, and social services agencies with the court and attorneys to meet the diverse needs of high-risk families in which parental substance use disorders contribute to child maltreatment. (May 2013)

  • Understanding Child Welfare and the Courts
    Families involved with the child welfare system may have some involvement with the court – in most States, this occurs in a family or juvenile court. This factsheet from Child Welfare Information Gateway is designed to serve as a quick guide to the general types of court hearings that a family may experience, and it traces the steps of a child welfare case through the court system. (2011)
  • Foster Care Reform Litigation Docket
    This publication from the National Center for Youth Law provides basic information on 71 child welfare reform cases nationwide that are currently in active litigation, a pending settlement agreement, or are significant in some other respect. The Docket also describes a small sampling of damages cases.

  • Case Summaries
    The National Center for Adoption Law & Policy at Capital University Law School publishes a weekly electronic summary of adoption and child welfare cases. Subscribe by visiting their website at

  • Major Federal Legislation Concerned With Child Protection, Child Welfare, and Adoption
    This publication from the Child Welfare Information Gateway summarizes the major provisions of key Federal laws regarding child protection, child welfare, and adoption and includes a timeline of Federal child welfare legislation. New features this year include links to the full-text of each act and the Major Federal Legislation Index and Search, which allows users to browse or search the acts included in this publication.

  • State Child Welfare Legislation
    State lawmakers play a significant role in crafting legislation and policy that govern the safety and well-being of children in their states. The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) tracks this activity through its State Child Welfare Legislation reports.

  • Child Welfare Consent Decrees
    The Child Welfare League of America and the American Bar Association Center on Children and Law have released a new research paper that details state child welfare consent decrees from 1995 to 2005. This review examines child welfare class-action litigation in 32 states, with consent decrees or settlements in 30 of these states. The report is an attempt to examine decrees or settlements currently in effect or having expired in the last 10 years. The study includes a state-by-state summary, state-by-state description, and actions taken in various areas of concern.

  • Expediting Permanency: Legal Representation for Foster Children in Palm Beach County
    This report from Chapin Hall describes the evaluation of the Foster Children's Project of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County, Florida, which provides legal representation to children who have been placed in substitute care as a result of child abuse or neglect. Study findings suggest that 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.

  • Study Shows Legal Representation of Children Expedites Permanency
    This article by Lily Dorman-Colby discusses an evaluation of the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County's Foster Children's Project (FCP) that shows a direct link between legal representation of children in foster care and their permanency outcomes. The study used data provided by the child welfare records from the Department of Children and Families' HomeSafeNet administrative database and from the juvenile court case files. The study also included interviews of judicial professionals, social workers, youth, and their parents. Findings indicate children represented by FCP were determined to have significantly higher rates of achieving permanency; adoption or guardianship was almost three times more likely with children served by FCP; there was a significant increase in long-term custody among children represented by FCP; reunification rates were unchanged; and permanency and the timing of legal milestones were expedited. Suggestions for courts and court professionals are made. The article is available from ABA Center on Children and the Law’s Child Court Works v. 10.3 (June 2008).
    (This article discusses the research by Chapin Hall mentioned in the above link.)

  • Determining the Best Interests of the Child
    Whenever a court must make a determination as to the custody and/or placement of a child, or must decide on a petition for termination of parental rights, the court must weigh whether that decision will be in the best interests of the child. All States and Territories require that the child's best interests be considered whenever such decisions regarding a child's placement are made. This recently updated State Statutes publication by the Child Welfare Information Gateway provides the factors that may be considered by the court when making a “best interests” determination.

  • Toolkit Features Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse Cases
    The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has published “Court Performance Measures in Child Abuse and Neglect Cases.” The toolkit, which provides detailed guidance for developing and implementing court performance measures in child abuse and neglect cases, consists of five volumes, which may be ordered as a whole or individually. The five volumes are as follows: Technical Guide; Implementation Guide; User’s Guide; Guide to Judicial Workload Assessment; Key Measures. The toolkit and its components may be accessed online or ordered as print copies.

  • QIC-NRF Spring 2009 Newsletter: Non-Resident Fathers and the Courts
    The Spring 2009 edition of the newsletter by the Quality Improvement Center on Non-Resident Fathers and the Child Welfare System (QIC-NRF) focuses on the theme of Non-Resident Fathers and the Courts. The newsletter includes a variety of articles on this topic, including: Enhanced Representation for Non- Resident Fathers in Child Welfare Proceedings, My Kids are in State Custody, What Do I Do Now?, 10 Tips on How to Work With Your Lawyer, and, Constitutional Rights of Non-Resident Fathers, amongst others.

  • Agency and Court Collaboration and Youth Report: 2nd Round of CFSRs
    This PowerPoint presentation discusses the court involvement in the CFSR process, providing promising observations as well as areas where further collaboration is needed. It also presents the Youth in Foster Care Report from 2007 CFSRs.

  • Healthy Beginnings, Healthy Futures: A Judge's Guide
    Produced in collaboration with the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the Zero to Three National Policy Center, this guide for judges addresses the wide array of health. (2009)

  • Model Courts National Agenda Implementation Guide
    The National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges report discusses the role of the courts in catalyzing change and achieving equity and fairness in foster care. (2009)

  • Improving Child Welfare/Court Collaboration
    The Summer/Fall 2009 issue of Child Welfare Matters focuses on Improving Child Welfare/Court Collaboration. This issue of the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement’s (NRCOI) newsletter was produced jointly with the National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues (NRCLJI). The issue highlights 10 strategies agencies and courts can use to build and sustain collaboration, lists resources, and includes an interview with the Federal Child and Family Services Review team. (2009)

  • ABA Child Law Practice Features Articles on Parent Partners
    The December 2009 and January 2010 issues of Child Law Practice, an American Bar Association Publication, feature the following articles on parent partners:

    The December 2009 article discusses the role of parent partners, highlights parent partner programs throughout the country and the outcomes of these programs, emphasizes the importance of training, offers web resources, and includes a parent advocate story developed by Rise, a magazine written by and for parents involved in the child welfare system. The January 2010 follow-up article provides parents’ attorneys with suggestions and tips for working with parent partners and parents.

  • The Timing of Termination of Parental Rights: A Balancing Act for Children’s Best Interests
    This Child Trends research brief explores the issues that judges consider when making decisions about termination of parental rights and adoption of foster children. The briefis based on interviews with 20 judges from 18 states. The federal Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 shortens the timeframe for terminating parental rights (TPR) as a way to facilitate timely adoptions for children in foster care who cannot be reunited with their birth parents. The interviews suggest that while judges are concerned about terminating birth parents' rights to a child before an adoptive family has been identified, recent innovations in case practice have helped to address these concerns and have made for a less divisive decision-making process. This research brief also presents the study's implications for juvenile and family court policy and practices. (September 2009)

  • Afraid to Speak Up: I Needed My Lawyer to Advocate for Me
    In this February 2010 web exclusive from Rise Magazine, Nancy Colon shares her experiences with the child welfare and legal systems as a parent struggling to reunite with her children, and discusses the need for legal advocacy/support for parents. Nancy is now a Parent Advocate at the Detroit Center for Family Advocacy. Rise magazine is written by and for parents involved in the child welfare system. Its mission is to help parents advocate for themselves and their children.

    Nancy Colon’s story was included in a special issue of the Michigan Child Welfare Law Journal (Fall 2009) dedicated to issues affecting parents in the child welfare system and those who represent
    them in court proceedings.

  • We’re Here for You
    In this March 2010 web exclusive published by Rise Magazine, Ebonie King shares the story of how support and straight talk from her parent advocate helped her trust her lawyer and her team. Rise magazine is written by and for parents involved in the child welfare system. Its mission is to help parents advocate for themselves and their children.

  • Working with the Courts in Child Protection
    This publication is part of the Children’s Bureau’s Child Abuse and Neglect User Manual Series, and it provides the basic information needed by CPS caseworkers and others to work successfully with the dependency courts, including relevant terminology, descriptions of the key court processes, and practical information to help prepare for court. This is essential reading for anyone seeking to better understand the child welfare court process. (2006)

Resources from the States

  • Illinois: A Court Guide for Caseworkers
    This resource from Cook County provides general guidelines on how to present social casework information to the court in child protection proceedings. The guide also explains relevant legal concepts and the role of a caseworker in such proceedings.

  • New Mexico Child Welfare Handbook
    This project of the Corinne Wolfe Children’s Law Center and the New Mexico Judicial Education Center at the Institute of Public Law, UNM School of Law is intended to provide the New Mexico judiciary and other members of the child welfare community with a comprehensive resource guide to the state’s child abuse and neglect process. It incorporates the applicable requirements of the New Mexico Children’s Code, the Children’s Court rules, court cases and federal laws. It summarizes the child abuse and neglect process, describes the roles and responsibilities of a number of the participants, explains the hearings that may take place in a case, and addresses such topics as discovery, evidence, psychological considerations, and special provisions for Indian children. Proceedings under the children's mental health laws, the Delinquency Act, and other statutes are also summarized.

  • Pennsylvania: Legal Services Initiative
    Pennsylvania has initiated a unique program that frees up time for both caseworkers and attorneys in child welfare agencies, focuses new resources on finding relatives for children in foster care, and, most importantly, expedites permanency for many children. How do they do it? The State's Legal Services Initiative (LSI) Program allows counties to place a trained paralegal within their child welfare agency to support caseworkers and attorneys in addressing legal barriers to permanency.

Resources on Involving Children and Youth in Court

  • NRCYD eUpdate Summer 2013: Court and Youth Involvement
    The focus of this issue of The National Resource Center for Youth Development’s (NRCYD) eUpdate is on youth involvement with the court system.  It features an article written by Howard Davidson, J.D., Director of the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law, in which he discusses six elements of state laws that are essential to support IV-E agencies to extend foster care to these young adults.  The issue also includes a quiz on court involvement and youth in child welfare, perspectives of former foster care youth, and additional resources.  (Summer 2013)

  • Hearing Your Voice: A Dependency Guide for Youth
    The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project, in partnership with Florida’s Children First and the Florida Court Improvement Program, has developed this guide. The booklet is designed to help youth understand the court process, and empower them to be involved.

  • Seen and Heard: Involving Children in Dependency Court
    This article includes an overview of national policies addressing children’s participation in court, followed by discussion of the benefits of such participation. It then offers concrete suggestions for reforming practice, policy, and systems to better engage youth in the court process. American Bar Association, Center on Children and the Law (2006).

  • With Me, Not Without Me: How to Involve Children in Court
    This article offers tips to help lawyers and judges prepare for children’s involvement in child welfare proceedings by: court making courtroom accommodations that help children feel comfortable participating in the court process and asking age-appropriate questions to obtain information from children that will aid the decision-making process. American Bar Association, Center on Children and the Law (2007).

  • The Effect of Youth Presence on Dependency Court Proceedings
    This article examines the importance of involving youth in court proceedings, and offers advice for practitioners. Juvenile and Family Justice Today (2006).

  • Teen Space: A Room of Our Own
    In this article, featured on the YouthSuccessNYC website, Taquan Pugh, Teen Space Peer Advocate, discusses the opening of Teen Space in the Queens County Family Court in New York City. Teen Space is a welcoming space reserved especially for teens in care, where youth (ages 13-21) can get information and relax while they’re waiting for their case to be heard. (2010)


  • Legal Resource Manual for Foster Parents Curriculum
    This four-module training curriculum is based on the Legal Resource Manual for Foster Parents developed for the National Foster Parent Association (NFPA) by Regina Deihl, J.D., Legal Advocates for Permanent Parenting and Cecilia Fiermonte, J.D., American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law. The manual itself can be purchased through the NFPA website.

    The curriculum was developed by Regina Deihl, J.D., Cecilia Fiermonte, J.D., and Dianne Kocer and Karen Jorgenson of the NFPA, with the support of the National Resource Center for Permanency and Family Connections, A Service of the Children's Bureau. For each module we provide the instructor's guide, which includes all handouts, and a PowerPoint presentation to be used in presenting the module.

Teleconferences, Webcasts, and Webinars

  • Collaborating with Courts to Reduce and Eliminate Disparities
    This teleconference/webinar session highlighted initiatives within dependency court systems focused on reducing and eliminating disproportionality and disparities, and how these can be resources for child welfare agencies engaged in work in this area. This event was co-sponsored by the National Child Welfare Resource Center for Organizational Improvement (NRCOI) and the National Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues. (February 2011)


  • National Child Welfare Resource Center on Legal and Judicial Issues
    The Resource Center provides training, technical assistance and consultation to agencies and courts on all legal and judicial aspects of the child welfare system, including court improvement, agency and court collaboration, court process, reasonable efforts requirements, legal representation of children and their families, guardianship, confidentiality and other emerging child welfare issues. The Resource Center also works to broaden the knowledge of agencies, courts, bar organizations, and other professional on issues involving child maltreatment, foster care, permanency planning, and adoption. It organizes and assists with training, produces and disseminates publications on law related child welfare topics, develops training materials, and helps others to improve laws, regulations, court rules, and policies.

  • CSSP: Non-Adversarial Litigation
    The Center for the Study of Social Policy has been involved in several class action lawsuits around the country on behalf of abused and neglected children. In each case, the Center has pioneered a less adversarial approach that seeks to solve longstanding problems in child welfare policies and programs. Based on this work, the Center has developed a body of knowledge about how to promote and sustain efforts to achieve change in the context of class action litigation. A paper outlining the benefits of a non-adversarial approach is available on their website, as well as an archive of reports on general issues in child welfare reform and reports highlighting efforts in specific states.

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway
    The Legal Issues and Laws portion of this website provides many helpful publications and tools, including a State Statute search, federal and state laws, and other legal information.

  • Children's Rights
    Children's Rights' mission is to promote and protect the right of children who are abused and neglected to grow up in permanent, loving families. By creating beneficial and lasting change in child welfare systems, they hope to ensure that children who are dependent on these systems stay safe, receive quality care and services, and return to their own families safely or find adoptive families so that they can have healthy childhoods that lead to productive adult lives.

  • National Project to Improve Representation for Parents Involved in the Child Welfare System
    The National Project to Improve Representation for Parents Involved in the Child Welfare System strengthens representation of parents in the child welfare system through: training and technical assistance for parents’ attorneys, courts and legislators; networking opportunities (via a listserv and national conference focused on parent representation); providing resources to improve parent representation; and supporting system reforms that ensure parents and their attorneys are given a voice in the child welfare system.

  • The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project
    In January 2008, the American Bar Association’s Center on Children and the Law and Youth at Risk Commission, in partnership with Casey Family Programs and the Eckerd Family Foundation, started the Bar-Youth Empowerment Project. The Bar-Youth Empowerment Project aims to improve outcomes for youth currently in foster care as well as young people who have aged out of care by promoting youth participation in court cases that affect them and offering access to legal counseling and representation to youth in need of specialized legal assistance. The project has three primary goals: Every state and territory must provide legal representation to youth in foster care; Youth voices must always be effectively heard in court; and, Former foster youth must have access to basic legal advice. Resources related to these goals are available on the Bar-Youth Empowerment Project website.
Last updated 10/23/13