Research Report: Exploring Outcomes Related to Parent Representation in Mississippi

May 4, 2015

The U.S. Constitution does not grant parents a right to legal counsel in the juvenile dependency system. However, most states have created statutes that provide parents with legal representation in juvenile dependency cases. Currently, Mississippi is the only state with no provision for legal counsel for indigent parents. In 2012, a pilot program supported by Casey Family Programs was implemented to provide indigent parents in juvenile dependency cases with legal representation in four Mississippi counties. This study compared elements of cases with and without parent representation to illuminate any initial effects of the pilot project in two of the selected counties: Forrest and Rankin.  

Due to the exploratory nature of this research, sample sizes were often too small to allow for statistical comparisons between cases with and without parent representation. However, findings did reveal some interesting trends related to parent representation in Rankin County. Specifically, the average number of days from petition filing to adjudication and from petition filing to case closure was lower among cases in which parents were represented (either by pilot project appointed attorneys or by private attorneys) compared to cases without parent representation. In addition, 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. Though findings from this initial study are promising, additional research examining larger case samples is needed to further the understanding of the impacts of parent representation on case processes and outcomes.  
Click here to read a two-page summary of findings in the Research Snapshot related to this work.
Research Evidence Classification: Emerging
The practice of providing parents representation in dependency cases was evaluated in terms of the relationship to timeliness, case continuances, parent’s presence at hearings, child placement, and case outcomes. In accordance with the NCJFCJ Policy Statement on Evidence of Effectiveness, appointing parents’ representation has been classified by NCJFCJ research staff as Emerging using the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Continuum of Evidence of Effectiveness, specifically as it relates to the outcomes identified above.