Family Defense Clinic

All families have the right to family integrity—parents’ rights to the care, custody, and control of their children and children’s rights to live with their families and not in state custody. The state threatens this right when it investigates a family for alleged neglect or abuse, or seeks to separate a family and place children in state custody, or subjects a family to jurisdiction of the family court. The overwhelming majority of families who face such threats are poor and are disproportionately Black and brown.

In the Family Defense Clinic at Columbia Law School, student attorneys defend families against intervention by the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS). This includes representing parents facing allegations of neglect or abuse of their children in family court or administrative proceedings. Student attorneys defend against those allegations and advocate for support resources and services to help parents reunify, families to remain intact whenever possible, prompt reunification when ACS or the court separate families, and the state to remove parents from the State Central Registry (so parents can obtain certain employment) as each individual client and case dictate.

Student attorneys engage in vigorous advocacy on behalf of their clients, focusing on the power hierarchies involved in these cases and the role of this legal system in individual families and communities. Student attorneys will also engage in systemic advocacy to explore this legal system beyond what occurs in family court and to join a dynamic field with multiple voices for change.

The clinic seminar focuses on skills and substantive law necessary for case representation. Student attorneys also explore the role of lawyers, the function of this legal system, and different directions change efforts may take.