Description of original award (Fiscal Year 2023, $500,000)
Hennepin County’s Adult Representation Services (ARS) department provides legal representation to individuals experiencing poverty, including legal defense for parents facing child protection cases. These clients are disproportionately people of color. ARS will create a program to divert certain cases from the court process. Substance use disorder (SUD) is a significant driver of child protection court involvement and out of home placement in the jurisdiction. However, court cases must adhere to federal timelines that are not generally aligned with the path from addiction to recovery. Families impacted by SUD would often be better served outside of the court system, promoting better outcomes for them, increasing equity, and reducing the burden on the courts and legal system partners.
One critical intervention opportunity is for parents using substances during pregnancy or at birth. ARS will partner with healthcare providers for earlier identification of parents experiencing or at risk for this, then use an interdisciplinary model that includes legal, peer support, and social services. Using staff and contracted providers, ARS will deliver early, wraparound supports with an emphasis on keeping children in their homes with their parents. Early intervention can help the parent to stabilize, ensure the child’s wellbeing, and prevent a child protection court case. ARS already has a multidisciplinary office that provides holistic services to clients. It will hire two parent mentors to augment the team. These will be individuals with lived experience as parents in the child protection system and ARS will seek mentors who also have lived experience with SUD. These staff will work closely with parents and families to provide support and connect them to services.
Preventive legal services will be a major focus. ARS has found that court clients often did not understand the implications of their actions and decisions prior to coming to court. Had they more fully understood the legal consequences, they may have made different choices. In this model, ARS will provide them with the resources to make informed decisions with the goal of avoiding court involvement altogether. Additionally, parents involved with child protection are often facing barriers that could be resolved by legal advocacy in other areas. ARS works in multiple areas of law and can address ancillary legal issues in-house, potentially also preventing court involvement in other areas. This combination of legal, social, and peer support services will help to keep families together and divert cases from court.