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Exploring Outcomes Related to Legal Representation for Parents Involved in Mississippi's Juvenile Dependency System

NCJ Number
Date Published
October 2014
29 pages
Preliminary results are presented for the outcome of a 2012 pilot program that provided indigent parents in juvenile dependency cases with legal representation in four Mississippi counties.
Currently, Mississippi is the only State with no provision for legal counsel for indigent parents in juvenile dependency cases. This study focused on two of the counties. It collected data on 34 juvenile dependency cases in Forrest County (23 cases with pilot-project attorneys, 15 cases with private attorneys, and 51 cases with no representation). In Rankin County, 51 cases were examined (23 cases with pilot project attorneys, 15 cases with private attorneys, and 51 cases with no representation). For each site, analyses compared case-related decisions and outcomes such as service orders, child placements, case timeliness, and case resolution. The report notes that these results are preliminary and cannot provide a definitive answer regarding the benefits of parent representation. The data indicate that providing legal counsel to parents in child dependency cases produces promising trends, warranting further investigation through more robust analyses that can better illuminate the effects of parent legal representation. Mothers represented by project attorneys received significantly more services than mothers represented by private attorneys and mothers who had no representation. In addition, the average number of days from petition filing to adjudication was shorter in cases with parent legal representation (both project and private legal services) compared with cases without legal representation. There was no indication that having legal counsel resulted in unnecessary delays. Cases in which parents were represented by pilot project attorneys were more likely to result in dismissal of the petition than cases in which parents had no representation or were represented by private attorneys. 2 tables and 7 figures

Date Published: October 1, 2014