Family Defense Project

FDP (Family Defense Project) SLP LogoThe purpose of the Family Defense Project (FDP) is to provide advocacy on behalf of low-income parents involved in, or at risk of becoming involved 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 separating 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 pre-trial 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.

FDP students will have the opportunity to engage in a variety of projects to advance interdisciplinary family defense, from direct client work to community education to policy research and advocacy. Students can gain client-facing skills by conducting preventative intake for parents who are at risk of entering the dependency system and working on short-term, prevention-focused projects for clients. Students may also conduct intake for a Participatory Family Support Group run by All of Us or None. Students can gain insight into community organizing work that is being done in the Bay Area family defense space by notetaking at Participatory Family Support Group Meetings, and by engaging in policy advocacy with Reimagine Child Safety Northern California Coalition. Additionally, students will be able to develop and implement the curriculum for a System Navigation Workshop to inform and empower parents with open dependency cases in San Francisco. Students may also use workshop materials to create written Know Your Rights and resource guides for parents. Finally, students will have the opportunity to contribute to a large-scale research project on the current state of primary caregiver diversion programs across all California counties, in partnership with Berkeley Law’s newly-formed Criminal Law & Justice Center.

The wide range of projects available to FDP students this year reflects the dynamic nature of the field of family defense, which is rapidly expanding in the Bay Area and beyond. Students will have the opportunity to build a diverse skill set while substantively learning about a crucial yet often overlooked area of law.

Supervision: Students in FDP provide legal services under the supervision of attorneys from the Legal Services for Prisoners with Children.

Time Commitment: Time commitment will vary depending on intake demand and a student’s chosen project(s). As a baseline, our goal is for students to commit to 30 hours per semester, or 2-3 hours per week.

For more information, please contact the student leaders at