REPORT: Attorneys for Children Issue White Paper Urging Albany to Address Family Court Crisis with Increased Funding

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By Perla Chavez 

NEW YORK, NY – A white paper issued by the Attorney for Children (AFC) highlights the consequences of prolonged underfunding and heavy workloads on AFC providers, which poses a threat to children’s access to justice.

AFC urged Albany lawmakers to set aside $60 million for right-sizing AFC programs in the budget for Fiscal Year 2025.

On the AFC website, AFC advocates for children in abuse, neglect, and life-altering cases.

As reported by AFC, for nearly two decades, AFC offices have endured minimal budget increases; meanwhile, there have been an increasing amount of complex caseloads and experienced AFC resignations.

AFC claims regardless of the budget increases for AFC Offices in FY 2023-2024, attorney salaries in AFC offices still lag compared to their counterparts, leading to unfilled vacancies due to high caseloads and low pay.

The article notes AFC welcomes the New York State Office of Court Administration’s (OCA) proposed budget increase of $19.7 million to $205 million, for the 2024-2025 budget, a rise from FY 23-24, but AFC stresses the need for further funding to address decades of underfunding.

AFC is proposing an initial $60 million infusion, including $50 million to reduce caseloads and enhance staffing, and an additional $10 million for delinquency proceedings. This aims to establish livable wages, retain staff, and ensure justice for clients in court proceedings.

According to AFC, Section 127.5 of the Rules of the Chief Administrator of the Court states attorneys representing children face a cap of 150 children per attorney. However, as many children are involved in multiple proceedings, each attorney often deals with far more than the prescribed limit, managing numerous open dockets or petitions simultaneously across different courtrooms.

AFC said this necessitates attorneys representing the same client across multiple courtrooms or even following cases to different courthouses due to judicial transfers. Additionally, varied dockets entail diverse case types, demanding distinct preparation and legal strategies.

The white paper points out, this caseload standard was issued over 15 years ago and has proven to be outdated, and it should be reevaluated and revised by the New York State Office of Court Administration (OCA).

A new interim standard of 75 dockets is proposed by the white paper to immediately halve AFC caseloads, with a clear plan for further reductions over the next two fiscal years. This shift from a child-based to a case-based standard is crucial for aligning AFC workloads with those of parents’ counsel, said AFC.

AFC adds the unique demands of delinquency and PINS cases necessitate lower caseloads to ensure effective advocacy, and a comprehensive plan is needed to adjust AFC caseloads accordingly and provide necessary funding to support this workload standard.

Karen Freedman, president of Lawyers For Children, states, “We call on NYS lawmakers to provide the $60,000,000 needed to terminate the outdated AFC funding system that condones legal representation of children in upwards of 150 cases at any given time. Equitable access to justice for children demands equitable funding for AFC offices.”

Christine Gottlieb, director, NYU School of Law Family Defense Clinic, argues, “There is no more important judicial function than protecting the rights of children and families. Courts cannot meet that mandate when the attorneys who appear before them have unmanageable workloads. Reducing the caseloads of attorneys for children is a necessary step toward building the Family Courts that families deserve.”

About The Author

Perla Chavez is a first-generation college student that has obtained a paralegal certificate from the UCLA Extension Paralegal Program. Her academic journey includes a major in Political Science with a focus on race, ethnicity, and politics at UCLA. Perla has actively contributed to social justice advocacy through internships with CHIRLA and the NAACP. Driven by her passion to recognize inequalities and advocate for the rights of others, Perla aspires to become an immigration lawyer. Apart from her dedication to academics and the legal field, she finds fulfillment in being a volunteer for the city of California City, spending quality time with family, and expressing creativity through painting.

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