Abstract: Examining the Legal Representation of Youth in Foster Care: Perspectives of Foster Parents (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

364P Examining the Legal Representation of Youth in Foster Care: Perspectives of Foster Parents

Friday, January 17, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Jacquelynn Duron, PhD, Assistant Professor, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
Justin "Jay" Miller, PhD, Associate Dean for Research, University of Kentucky, KY
Jessica Donohue-Dioh, na, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Melissa Segress, Executive Director, Training Resource Center, University of Kentucky, KY
Background: Adequate legal representation in any court system is paramount to receiving just outcomes. The U.S. Constitution affords citizens the right to due process, which includes competent legal counsel. For many groups, having effectual legal representation, or lack thereof, can have life-long impacts. Foster youth and alumni are such groups.

Despite this recognition, few studies have examined legal representation for foster youth in dependency court. Specifically, few works have examined stakeholder perspectives about legal representation for this group. This study seeks to address this limitation in the extant literature.

Methods: The overarching purpose of this exploratory study was to examine foster parent perspectives about the legal representation of foster youth involved in dependency court proceedings. Ancillary purposes including examining relationships and group differences among variables of interest for the study. All participants were current foster parents (N=792) in one southeastern state. Primary data were collected utilizing an adapted instrument designed to collect data regarding effective legal representation (Miller et al., 2017). Variables of interest included Impact of Legal Representation on Outcomes, Quality of Legal Representation, Communication, Contact, Relationship, and Perceived Competence of Representation, among others. This study uniquely builds on previous lines of inquiry that examined foster youth perceptions about legal representation. 

All data collected for this study were analyzed via IBM SPSS version 24.0. Univariate/bivariate analyses were performed to examine descriptive characteristics of the sample and to examine correlations between demographic and perceptions of legal representation. ANOVAs were conducted to investigate differences between key categorical variables with appropriate sample sizes at each level on the dependent variables. Multivariate analyses were performed to explore the effects key predictor variables may have on the dependent variables.

Results: Overall, data suggest that while foster parents perceived attorneys to be competent about legal issues pertaining to foster care, they perceived there to be minimal contact between these attorneys and the foster youth they represent. Additionally, foster parents perceived relationships between youth and their attorneys to be poor and for the overall quality of the legal representation of youth in foster care to be lackluster. These findings are particularly interesting given that foster parents perceived that legal representation is vitally pertinent to the overall foster care experience. Analyses revealed that foster parent age, education level, and placement status impacted perceptions of representation.

Implications: This study uniquely contributes to the literature and is one of the first known studies to explicitly examine foster parent perspectives of legal representation. Results inform salient implications associated with legal practice for foster youth/alumni, research related to legal representation, and education/training for child welfare stakeholders. Participants who engage in this presentation will: appreciate the insight of key stakeholders in informing legal representation; understand study findings; and, identify remedies and apposite areas of future research for addressing challenges associated with providing youth/alumni effective legal representation.


Miller, J., Duron, J., Washington, E., & Donohue-Dioh, J. (2017). Exploring the legal representation of individuals in foster care: What say youth and alumni?. Children and Youth Services Review78, 142-149.