Perceived Effectiveness of Parent Representation Social Workers by Legal Professionals Involved with Indigent Defendants


  • Jeremiah W. Jaggers University of Utah College of Social Work
  • Aurene Wilford
  • Ileana Anderson
  • Joanna Bettmann



child welfare, parent representation, social work, indigent defendants, foster care


The total number of children in the U.S. foster care system exceeds 428,000. Previous research indicates that when social workers and legal professionals work together, children and their families benefit significantly. Parents who effectively engage in the child welfare system are more likely to benefit from services and reunify with their children. The present study employed a phenomenological approach to explore how a parent representation pilot, which paired social workers with public defenders to better represent the needs of families in the child welfare system, was experienced by legal professionals. Judges and family court attorneys (n = 9) found the program to be helpful in reunifying families. Public defenders were able to leverage the social worker’s skills and experience to facilitate more positive outcomes, while reducing case burden. Challenges were also identified and included a lack of interdisciplinary training, potential overlap in ethical responsibilities, and role confusion. Structured intervention programs that encourage collaboration between social workers and legal professionals may improve case outcomes for indigent families involved in the child welfare system. It is advised that social work undertake a formal multidisciplinary approach in support of public defenders, which may serve to encourage positive case outcomes.


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