Public defenders request proposals for helping at-risk youth and families

The Indiana Public Defender Commission is calling for proposals of projects that will help improve the assistance offered to children and families involved in the child welfare system and prevent involvement altogether.

Using a $2 million bump in its appropriation from the state, the commission is looking to fund new pilot programs or projects that will study either existing or the development of new commission standards and guidelines to improve the quality of public defense in the children in need of services, termination of parental rights and juvenile delinquency practice areas.

The proposals should focus on accomplishing two goals: creating long-term improvements in systems that serve Indiana at-risk youth and families within the state’s child welfare system, the juvenile delinquency system or both, and creating system improvements that proactively prevent such involvement.

“Indiana families are often subjected to state intervention as a result of a minor issues that could and should have otherwise been resolved,” commission chair Mark Rutherford said in a news release. “We hope to receive innovative funding proposals that will lead to systemic improvements that reduce the need for state intervention.”

Specific areas the commission has approved for review are:

  • Caseload standards: hiring attorneys to study the impact of “open case” caseloads in CHINS cases versus the “number of appointments” caseloads that are currently used in commission standards.
  • Support staff levels: hiring additional investigative, social work, clerical or paralegal support to assist public defenders in CHINS, TPR and/or juvenile delinquency cases.
  • Variations in compensation structure: modifying a county public defender compensation plan in CHINS, TPR and delinquency cases to a partial hourly system from a contractual system.
  • Variations in part-time/full-time public defender status: modifying part-time public defenders with a private practice to full-time, salaried public defenders.
  • Partnering appellate public defenders with trial-level public defenders: hiring an appellate attorney to develop a legal case plan with CHINS, TPR and/or delinquency public defenders, including but not limited to sitting in on hearings, advising trial counsel regarding appropriate objections, and discussing potential appellate issues and strategies.

Topics for proposals seeking to develop new standards and guidelines could include:

  • Implementing timekeeping.
  • Structured, random file review and/or review of deputy public defender case activities.
  • Developing and implementing a system that requires county public defenders to disclose and formally report specific case activities and outcomes.
  • Studying client satisfaction with their public representation.

Proposals received by Sept. 1 will receive priority consideration for funding. The full request for proposals may be found on the commission’s website.

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