Family Defense Project

Logo of the Family Defense Project SLP

The purpose of the Family Defense Project (FDP) is to provide holistic legal support and advocacy for low-income parents in dependency court proceedings. In particular, Black and Brown parents are at disproportionate risk of being aggressively surveilled and unnecessarily separated from their children by the family regulation system (also known as the child welfare system). This happens because the dependency court system is highly discretionary and often conflates poverty with failed parenting, which could be mitigated by adequate provision of social services instead of by tearing apart loving families. Too often, racism and bias also bleed into dependency court decisions, which leads to less institutional trust of parents of color and a misguided belief by the system that their children are better off in state custody. In partnership with the East Bay Family Defenders, FDP will help fight this racism and classism by advocating for parents in the East Bay who are at risk of unjust family separation or have already been separated from their families.

Though the family defense movement has strong roots in New York City, similar momentum has yet to receive widespread support in California. East Bay Family Defenders is the only organization providing such representation in the East Bay, and it currently operates on a small scale relative to the tremendous need in the community. FDP aims to assist in bridging this gap.

Under the supervision of an East Bay Family Defenders’ attorney, students will provide support to low-income parents navigating dependency court proceedings and other collateral systems (family court, probate court, child support, the criminal legal system, etc.). Students will have the opportunity to work on projects in direct client services and legal research, as well as projects aimed at improving the accessibility of court processes involving children. Based on current needs and student interest, students may work with clients to help them prepare for upcoming hearings, navigate collateral systems (making appointments, applying for benefits, etc.), and prepare supporting declarations. Students may also create resource guides for parents and conduct legal research to help East Bay Family Defenders better advise their clients. Lastly, there is potential for students to do policy advocacy work with organizing groups involved in the family defense movement in California and beyond.

Supervision: Students in FDP provide legal services under the supervision of attorneys from the East Bay Family Defenders.

Time Commitment: Time commitment will vary based on tasks. The goal is for students to commit to 30 hours a semester, or about 2-3 hours a week.

For more information, please contact the student leaders at familydefense@berkeley.edu.