The Family Defense Project (BFDP) was formed in 2007 in response to a Request for Proposal issued by the City of New York that envisioned an institutional provider for respondents in Article 10 cases. Originally an office of Legal Services-NYC (LS-NYC), in December 2012, BFDP separated from LS-NYC and joined BDS. BFDP’s in-court and out-of -court advocacy has resulted in over 5,000 children leaving foster care out of the 6,500 of our clients’ children who were in care at some point during the Article 10 case. For more information see our additional website at http://bfdp.org.
From its inception and since moving to BDS, BFDP has continued to develop and improve its model of high quality legal representation for parents involved in the child welfare system. From the growth of the Social Work Unit to the creation of the Young Mother’s Empowerment Project and partnerships with community-based agencies, BFDP has been creative in meeting the needs of poor people facing the loss of their children. With the addition of BDS’s on-site immigration, housing, and educational services and the other areas of expertise at BDS, BFDP is now able to provide more comprehensive one-stop legal and social services to clients. In addition, BFDP now works collaboratively with criminal defense attorneys on shared cases, improving outcomes for clients in both courts.
The focus of BFDP’s work is to assert the due process rights of parents in Family Court, including their constitutional right to family integrity, while providing access to the benefits and services families need to stay together. Our highest priority is to get and keep children out of foster care safely. Studies and experience show that foster care stays result in poor outcomes for children due to the trauma of separation from their families and repeated moves within the foster care system. By zealously representing parents, BFDP reduces the likelihood of foster care placement in the first instance and reduces the average time children spend in foster care overall.
In the six and a half years that BFDP has been providing institutional family representation, we have learned that most children involved in child welfare cases can live safely with their parents or family when they have access to benefits and appropriate services to meet the variety of needs and address the challenges that brought them into Family Court. Throughout the representation of our clients, our staff focuses on making sure parents and families receive these services, either through our own efforts or through agencies and programs in the community.
In 50% of our cases, our clients’ children never enter foster care. Our zealous advocacy, including investigating cases, finding alternative solutions and getting services in place, has significantly reduced the likelihood and duration of foster care placement. In fact, since 2007, when the institutional providers were created, the foster care census has gone down from over 17,000 to under 12,000 children. By both challenging allegations in abuse and neglect petitions and helping families get the benefits and services they need to stay safe and stable, we are able to achieve family reunification for 70% of our clients.