The Family Defense Project (FDP) works with parents whose children are at risk of entering the foster care system. By addressing legal and resource needs, FDP will empower families, protect children, and prevent foster care placement.

While foster care can be a necessary intervention, it is expensive and not without significant harm to children and families. Children who spend time in foster care have worse outcomes in education, employment, income, housing, health, substance abuse, and criminal involvement when compared to their peers in the general population.

FDP utilizes an attorney and a social worker to provide proactive, short-term legal representation aimed at legal issues and needs directly related to keeping children out of foster care. FDP anticipates receiving referrals from a variety of sources, including hospital social workers, service providers, other legal services providers, and agencies.

Pre-petition representation has been shown to be highly effective. In Detroit, between 2009-2012, the Center for Family Advocacy’s program represented the families of 110 children identified as being at-risk for foster care entry and successfully kept all 110 children from entering foster care. Between 2018 and 2020, Legal Services of New Jersey received 200 referrals from child welfare and helped avoid 300 foster care placements. There are a variety of models currently being replicated across the country. Program evaluations are encouraging, showing nearly 100% prevention of foster care entries and a cost savings of 2:1 when compared to the cost of foster care placement.

By working together with our community, the Family Defense Project strives to keep more children safely with their families and allow child welfare to focus its resources on those families that need it most.

For more information, please contact Jennifer Stoller at Jennifer.S@youthrightsjustice.org.