Review of Multidisciplinary Legal Representation of Parents in Dependency Proceedings
Report 22-07, December 2022
- The 2021 Legislature amended statute to encourage and facilitate the use of multidisciplinary teams (made up of an attorney, a forensic social worker, and a parent-peer specialist) by Florida’s five Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel (RCs). The legislation requires OPPAGA to collect and compile data from the RCs and to compare the outcomes of the children of those served by multidisciplinary legal representation (MLR) programs to those that were not served by such programs.
- Four of the five RCs are in various stages of MLR implementation. RCs in regions 1, 2, 3, and 4 have hired social workers; RCs 3 and 4 have hired parent-peer specialists; and RCs 1 and 4 have also hired family advocates to work as part of MLR teams. RCs are prioritizing cases that meet specific criteria, including those involving substance abuse and/or mental health issues or young parents who were recently in foster care. The four RCs currently implementing an MLR program reported that the offices are waiting to implement at least one program component until the receipt of federal Title IV-E funds. RC5 has reported that it does not plan to implement an MLR program.
- The MLR programs’ social workers and parent-peer specialists will serve on cases in a supportive capacity, working with parents to receive and complete court-ordered services more quickly and facilitating communication between parents and dependency staff (e.g., case managers). The goals of the programs include faster reunification, decreased removals, and increased access to services.
- OPPAGA received data on cases that received MLR services in Fiscal Year 2021-22 from two RCs. In Fiscal Year 2021-22, RC1 provided MLR services in 74 dependency cases with 147 children. The MLR team provided parents with a variety of services, including additional case management and assistance with case plan tasks and visitations. In the same fiscal year, RC3 provided MLR services in 159 cases with 273 children. The primary services the MLR teams provided were case management, attendance of hearings, and assistance with housing.
- Due to the MLR programs being in the very early stages of implementation and the small number of families who have participated to date, OPPAGA could not perform outcome analysis comparisons for the measures specified in statute. OPPAGA was able to analyze the characteristics of children of parents served by MLR programs from two RCs compared to children in the child welfare system whose parents were not served by the programs. OPPAGA found that characteristics of children of parents served and those not served by an MLR program show some variation across demographic characteristics, prior involvement with the child welfare system, and reasons for entry into care. These findings provide important context about who the RCs have served with MLR programs and will help inform OPPAGA’s analyses in subsequent years. OPPAGA anticipates that in Fiscal Year 2022-23 and subsequent years, more data will be available on children of parents served by MLR programs, which may allow a more rigorous comparison analysis of children of parents served and not served by the MLR programs across RCs.
Child welfare, foster care, dependency proceedings, social workers, multidisciplinary legal representation, regional counsel, foresenic social worker, parent-peer speciailist, Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional
Counsel, child outcomes, program performance, case management