BDS’ Family Defense Practice (FDP) is the primary provider of legal representation to parents in child welfare cases in Brooklyn Family Court. The mission of FDP is to protect the right to family integrity of low- income families, primarily families of color who are disproportionately affected by the child welfare system. FDP’s interdisciplinary teams of attorneys, social workers, paralegals, and administrative staff advance our clients’ due process rights in court while also helping them get the benefits and services they need to keep their families together. Because the needs of children are generally best met by their own families, our representation is designed to keep children out of foster care, or when we are unable to prevent their removal, to safely reunify families as quickly as possible.
Each year, BDS’ FDP represents several thousand parents and caregivers in Article 10 cases and related custody, visitation, and termination of parental rights cases. We prevent children from entering foster care by advocating for families at Child Safety Conferences and litigating emergency hearings. Our interdisciplinary practice focuses on empowering our clients to help them to achieve their goals for their family. Many of FDP’s clients face complex and multi-faceted problems stemming from poverty and have difficulty accessing resources they need. Our clients’ representation benefits greatly from our collaborations with BDS’ other legal practice teams, including criminal, immigration, housing, education benefits and seamless internal referrals. FDP has a specialized Law and Appeals Unit, which handles complex motions and interim and final appeals. FDP also has supervisors and attorneys who specialize in custody, medically complicated, and termination of parental rights cases. Each year, students from New York University School of Law’s Family Defense Clinic are placed in our office. We also have a robust pro bono program which partners with major New York City law firms and an Associates’ Advisory Board. BDS also assists about 100 parents each year in clearing their names from the State Central Register after their Family Court case is dismissed, removing barriers to obtaining employment in the future.
Recognizing that the child welfare system is plagued by the effects of structural racism, sexism, and classism, FDP works for systemic change through legislative reform efforts, appellate advocacy, media, and informal advocacy with the Administration for Children’s Services. Our office regularly meets with important stakeholders and testifies before New York’s lawmakers to help amplify the voice the parents impacted by the child welfare system. FDP’s Parent Leadership Institute trains former clients to be parent advocates to help other child-welfare-involved parents and advocate for systemic change.
We are very proud our model of representation has been recognized as the most effective for representation of parents in child welfare cases by the Commission on Parental Representation in its interim report to Chief Judge DiFiore. A recent study commissioned by Casey Family Programs of the family defender offices in New York City concluded that our model of representation significantly reduced the time children spend in foster care.