Abstract: (WITHDRAWN) The Parent Representation Program Pilot (PRP) (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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292P (WITHDRAWN) The Parent Representation Program Pilot (PRP)

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Wesley Church, PhD, Director and J. Franklin Bayhi Endowed Professor, Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge, Baton Rouge, LA
Jeremiah Jaggers, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Research suggests that parents who effectively engage in the child welfare system are more likely to benefit from services and reunify with their children. The Utah Indigent Defense Commission (IDC) was created in 2016 to help the state “ensure its local indigent defense services meet the requirements of the United States and Utah Constitutions. Hence, the Parent Representation Program (PRP) Pilot was developed with the support of IDC grant funds and has three main goals:

  1. Increase the capacity and efficiency of parental defense attorneys through the assistance of social workers on child welfare cases.
  2. To connect clients to services and treatment and thereby achieve better outcomes for court-involved children and their families through increased rates of family reunification.
  3. Achieve faster case resolutions and reduce the need for attorney continuances.

Researchers conducted an evaluation of the PRP pilot in a major metropolitan area whereby a social worker was assigned to cases to assist parental defense attorneys. Interviews were conducted with stakeholders and with families to evaluate the perceived effectiveness of having a social worker as part of the parental defense team.

This qualitative inquiry includes perceptions of families (clients) and stakeholders, judges, assistant attorneys general, guardians ad litem, DCFS caseworkers, and public defenders. The focus of the current project is the perceived effectiveness of the social worker from the perspective of clients and, to a lesser degree, judges.

In order to better characterize the impact of PRP, 12 families were interviewed: 6 that had received social worker services through the PRP pilot and six that did not receive social worker services.

All clients who were interviewed had unique experiences with the child welfare system. They were economically disadvantaged, some came from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, and all families had challenges in the family unit that presented as case barriers.

In summary, the social worker was perceived as being extremely effective from the perspective of clients, public defenders, and judges:

  • The social worker was seen as an educational, social, and psychological support to clients and was trusted by both judges and clients.
  • Judges observed that the social worker gave a more holistic understanding to cases.
  • The social worker addressed many barriers faced by clients and aimed to holistically help clients with small and large challenges.
  • The social worker was perceived as a chief aid in guiding them through a frequently adversarial and confusing system.
  • The social worker often acted as mediator between the clients and the public defenders, guardians ad litem, assistant attorneys general, and the DCFS case workers.
  • On multiple occasions, judges and public defenders reported that cases seemed to progress faster with social worker involvement.

This presentation will discuss the challenges that emerged with the PRP pilot and makes recommendations for the future role of social workers in public defender offices on child welfare cases. Further, implications for training social workers to work in public defense settings, particularly as it relates to multi-system collaboration in child welfare cases.