Wednesday, February 7, 2018

New FREE Resource Launched by ABA Center on Children and the Law

Hello PDA Members-

Those of you already on the ABA Parents' Attorney listserv may have seen this exciting announcement already, but here it is again for those of you who have not:

Child Law Practice (CLP) Today, published by the ABA Center on Children and the Law<>, is a free online resource for child law practitioners. Practical articles tied to the ABA Center on Children and the Law's primary areas of work, and the work of our partners in the field, will be shared as they are published and may be accessed at<>
For the first time, content published in the parent publication, ABA Child Law Practice, from 2000 to 2017, including many articles related to parent representation may also be viewed for free at<>.<>
To sign up for CLP Alerts, send an email to<>.

The ABA, and particularly Child Law Practice Today, publish some of the most important scholarly research done in the country on the topic of child welfare laws and policies. It's fantastic to have this resource at our fingertips, and now to have it for FREE!

We hope this aids you in your practice.

PDA Board of Directors

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Article: A Child Abuse Prediction Model Fails Poor Families

For those of you who read the New York Times piece on Allegheny County's child abuse prediction model tool, this article is an important companion piece, and offers some insight into why the use of these tools actually doubles down on bias, instead of freeing the referral process from biases against poverty, race, and other factors. It's an important read. The excerpt below is especially telling about the problems with the Allegheny model, as well as with reliance on algorithms in child welfare referral decision making generally:

"The AFST’s predictive variables are drawn from a limited universe of data that includes only information on public resources. The choice to accept such limited data reflects the human discretion embedded in the model—and an assumption that middle-class families deserve more privacy than poor families."

You can read the article in its entirety here

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

General Registration for the Annual Conference is NOW OPEN!

General Registration for ALL MEMBERS of the PDA is NOW OPEN! Please click here to register. If you do not have a current contract (or conflict contract) with your county, you do NOT need any codes to register.

We look forward to seeing you in April!

NY Times Article re. Using Algorithms and Data Analysis Programs to Make Referral Decisions

Many of you may have already seen this article making the rounds on various parents' attorneys listservs. But if you haven't, it's a fascinating read. Allegheny County (which contains the city of Pittsburgh) experienced a rash of child abuse related deaths a couple of years ago. The reaction to those experiences was to implement the use of a data analytics tools to essentially double-check all referral decisions. While removal decisions are not being made by these tools (yet), it does represent what might be an unavoidable national trend, with both good and bad implications. Similar tools are already being considered in Utah, with the possibility of algorithm-based decision making models to be used in initial detention decisions in criminal cases in the next year (though as demonstrated here, approval of these tools hasn't been universal, and the Utah Legislature has some concerns).

THis is definitely a topic that parental defenders should keep their eyes on as it develops.

Friday, January 5, 2018

Priority Registration for PDA Members with Public Defense Contracts is Now Open!

As a reminder, Priority Registration for PDA members with current defense contracts (including conflict contracts) is now open! Detailed registration instructions can be found in the email blast sent out on January 3, 2018, but here are a few important items:

  • The Conference will be held Thursday, April 19, 2018 - Friday, April 20, 2018
  • It will be held at the Grand Summit Hotel in Park City, UT
  • The cost to attend is $125 for those with current contracts and $150 for those without.
  • General Registration for those without current contracts will open on January 17, 2018.
  • In order to successfully register during Priority Registration, you will need a password which you must obtain by contacting your local area representative on the PDA Board of Directors

Judicial Districts
Current Board Member Representative
Contact Email
1 and 2
Carol Mortensen
Jordan Putnam
Margaret Lindsay
5 and 6
Michael Rawson
7 and 8
Mark Tanner
Floating Representative
Grant Dickinson

If you would like to utilize Priority Registration, you can do so by clicking here.

If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact your local area board representative, or email We look forward to seeing you all in April!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Announcement of PDA Annual Conference Keynote Speakers

Hello Parental Defenders-

We are incredibly excited to announce that the keynote speakers for this year's Annual Conference will be Vivek Sankaran, J.D., and Christopher Church, J.D., M.S. The title of their presentation will be "Sparking a Revolution of Values: How Family Defense Lawyers Can Use Data, Stories, and Advocacy to Change the Child Welfare System's Approach to Families."

The work both Professor Sankaran and Mr. Church do to advance the cause of parental and family rights on a national scale is nothing short of inspiring. In order to give you an insight into the quality and tenor of their work, I'm attaching a link to an impressive article they recently co-authored, entitled "Easy Come, Easy Go: The Plight of Children who Spend Less Than 30 Days in Foster Care." You can find the article here. It explores the real and lasting harm inflicted on children who are removed from their parents for less than 30 days, while critically examining the data associated with these removals. The ultimate conclusion reached by Professor Sankaran and Mr. Church is that too many children are being subject to this extreme intervention, resulting in exposing those children to unnecessary harm.

Thoughtfully, Mr. Church has provided the following updated data demonstrating how Utah compares to national averages for short term foster care stays:

For children removed during 2016 FFY (Oct 1 2015 through Sept. 30, 2016),*
  • Just over 23K were discharged within 30 days of their removal, which is 9% of all children removed
    • In Utah, it was about 210 kids, which is 10% of all children removed in Utah (so slightly above the national rate)
  • Most of those kids (71.5%) were placed in an unfamiliar environment, with 19.3% placed in a congregate setting (shelter, group home, etc.)
    • In Utah, it was only 55% placed in an unfamiliar environment, with very little reliance on congregate settings
  • Nearly all (91%) of these children are discharged to a family member after their brief stay in care.  That is similarly true in Utah (81%).

There are a few counties that seem to have higher rates of short stayers (Cache at 18%, Uintah at 25%), but most are right in line with state rate (Salt Lake, e.g. at 11%). 

We strongly recommend you take an opportunity to review the full article. Having command of this data can help us all more clearly articulate arguments on our clients' behalves and be more effective advocates. 

Registration for the Annual Conference will open soon! Priority registration for those with current contracts will open on January 3, 2018, and General Registration will open on January 17, 2018. We look forward to seeing many of you in April!

*Data utilized in this article were made available by the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN), Cornell University, Ithaca NY; and have been used with permission. Data from the AFCARS dataset are originally collected by the state’s child welfare agency pursuant to federal reporting requirements. Staff at Fostering Court Improvement have analyzed the data and analyses are on file with them. Neither the collector of the original data, the funder, the Archive, Cornell University, or its agents or employees bear any responsibility for the analysis or interpretations.

Friday, November 3, 2017

ABA Center on Children and the Law: Case Summaries

Hello Parental Defenders-

For those of you who are not on the national parents' attorneys listserv that is sponsored by the ABA, it is fantastic resource. They recently sent out a document that contains summaries of 6 different cases from around the country that impact parental defense. I'm posting those summaries below for your convenience.

We appreciate the wonderful work you all do!

Kirstin Norman
Executive Director
Parental Defense Alliance of Utah
In re J.P., 223 Cal. Rptr. 3d 426 (Ct. App. 2017).

Juvenile court was required to appoint counsel for mother of dependent child in group home placement before hearing on petition for modification requesting reappointment of counsel, family reunification services, and extended and liberalized visits with child. Failure to ensure mother was represented deprived her of opportunities to challenge court’s orders and findings and created fundamental unfairness. Changed circumstances and benefit to child’s well-being strongly favored mother’s request, and counsel could have highlighted benefits to child.

In re Elijah C., 2017 WL 3431653 (Conn.).

Mother adequately briefed appellate claim challenging trial court’s finding she was unable to benefit from reunification services, because child welfare agency failed to provide services previously determined reasonable given mother’s cognitive deficits. However, evidence supported trial court’s determination she was unable to benefit from reunification efforts. While Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) cannot be used as defense to termination of parental rights, ADA applies to reunification services and programs required to meet parents’ specialized needs.

In re A.D.L., 402 P.3d 1280 (Nev. 2017).

Trial court violated mother’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination by terminating her parental rights because she refused to admit, as part of court-ordered case plan, that she intentionally, rather than accidentally, caused hot iron injury to child. Parent cannot be forced to admit to criminal act under threat of loss of parental rights.

In re Gabriella D., 2017 WL 4324959 (Tenn.).

Foster parents filed petition to terminate mother’s parental rights to three children and adopt them. Supreme court upheld juvenile court’s finding that although mother’s neglect resulted in one child’s severe abuse through malnourishment, mother cooperated with child welfare agency, completed all required tasks, reconnected with children, and children wished to remain with her. Terminating mother’s parental rights was therefore not in best interests of children.

In re E.R.W., 2017 WL 3879019 (Tex. Ct. App.).

As issue of first impression, state statute governing mandatory appointment of attorney ad litem for parent provides nonindigent parent with statutory right to representation by counsel in termination of parental rights proceeding. Nonindigent parent may challenge trial court’s termination of parental rights based on ineffective assistance of parent’s retained counsel.

In re P.F., 2017 WL 3668103 (Utah Ct. App.).

Child who was eligible for enrollment with Cherokee Nation but did not meet definition of “Indian child” at that time was properly placed with non-Indian foster family. When initial placement with foster family complies with Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), juvenile court can rely on child’s bond with foster family and potential trauma to child to find good cause necessary to deviate from ICWA’s placement preferences.