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The Field Center Hosts Community Symposium- Parental Representation in Juvenile Dependency Proceedings: Best Practice from a Multidisciplinary Perspective

As a co-chair of the Young Professionals Council of The Field Center for Children's Policy, Practice and Research, I am always looking for ways to contribute to the broader work of the respected Philadelphia organization. When the discussion of community symposium topics came up at a recent meeting, I suggested a topic rapidly emerging in Philadelphia. Recently, there has been an attempt at reform of parental representation in the juvenile dependency court system, raising a discussion of best practice. The City put out a Request for Proposals, asking private firms to bid to create what was envisioned to become conflict counsel for parents when the Public Defender could not handle the case.

The Field Center board took the idea and ran with it, creating a 3-person panel of experts on the topic. Wanting to avoid any political discussions and focus more on best practice, The Field Center took an interdisciplinary approach when forming its program.

The panel was composed of Mimi Laver, Esquire, the Director of Legal Education at the American Bar Association Center on Children and the Law and Director of the National Project to Improve Representation for Parents Involved in the Child Welfare System; Corey Shdaimad, LLM, PhD, Associate Professor and Academic Coordinator of the JD/MSW duel degree program at the University of Maryland School of Social Work; Ronald Richter, Esquire, Commissioner of New York City's Administration for Children's Services and former Judge, Family Court of the State of New York. Each presenter discussed his or her work in the field and a perspective from various states around the country in an effort to show Philadelphia what had been done, what was working and what was not.

After an hour and a half presentation, the panel accepted questions from the audience. Not surprisingly, there was a large contingent from the 1801 Vine Street Family Courthouse of Dependency "Wheel" attorneys (attorneys who are court-appointed to represent parents in dependency proceedings). It became readily apparent that Philadelphia was jumping the gun by issuing the RFP in its current form and that issues of funding and attorney compensation would need to be addressed first.

Overall, the panel brought comparison and perspective to our City that will hopefully be helpful as the area continues to evolve.

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