This semester, HLAB’s Family practice has officially launched its Family Defense subpractice and will begin regularly accepting family defense cases as part of its casework, alongside traditional family cases involving divorce, custody, and parenting time matters. The Bureau currently has six active family defense cases and has recently closed one case.
Spearheading family defense efforts have been Olivia Murray HLS ’23, Vandana Apte HLS ’23, Sarah Blatt-Herold HLS ’23, and Syeda Malliha HLS ’23, as well as Clinical Instructors Jacob Chin, Elizabeth Tuttle Newman HLS ’16, and Stephanie Goldenhersh. The launch of the subpractice comes after nearly two years of thoughtful coordination and organizing by students and CIs to connect with community organizations in the family defense space and determine how HLAB’s Family Practice could best serve families facing state intervention.
The mission of the Family Defense subpractice is to protect families threatened by state intervention and surveillance from child welfare agencies like the Department of Children and Families (“DCF”), intervention which can often lead to parents losing custody of their children on a temporary or permanent basis. Even without threat of removal, DCF intervention can impose longstanding consequences on families such as impacting employment outcomes and ability to become a foster parent, disclosing undocumented status, and continuing police involvement and surveillance. Family Defense work focuses on combatting the systemic abuses and trauma inflicted by these agencies upon poor communities and Black and brown communities. The mission of the Family Defense practice is also to fight against the criminalization of poverty and the conflation of poverty with neglect.
Thus far, HLAB student advocates have successfully prevented or delayed family separation and court filing on at least two different occasions where DCF was otherwise going to remove children from the home. Students have also negotiated with DCF to circumvent police escalation during an investigation.
As part of its work, students and CIs at the Family Practice intend to work closely with local community organizations who have long been engaging in family defense work, including Family Matters First of Boston. In particular, the Family Practice has been developing and conducting Know Your Rights trainings for parents and other guardians who may be facing state intervention; the Practice has also been receiving client referrals through its relationships with community organizations and advocates.