Furthering the County’s mission to provide comprehensive legal and social services to families struggling with child welfare issues, the Westchester County Department of Social Services (DSS) will partner with Legal Services of the Hudson Valley (LSHV) to create the Family Defense Unit (FDU). The New York State Office of Indigent Legal Services issued a $2.61 million grant to the County for this three-year project.  This model unit, to be based in LSHV’s White Plains office, will also serve families in Yonkers and other communities as needed and will be staffed with attorneys, social workers and parent advocates who will provide assistance to families with child protective and family court matters.  Families will also have access to a range of other LSHV legal support to address loss of health insurance and other benefits, eviction, homelessness, consumer debt and domestic violence.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer said: “Our Department of Social Services, along with the expertise of Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, will ultimately help to produce stronger, more stable families in Westchester through the creation of this program. We have a long history of successful collaborations with LSHV, and I am thrilled that Westchester has been selected to operate this first-of-its-kind program upstate, which will address both the legal and social service issues confronting parents who are affected by the child welfare system.”

Commissioner of DSS Kevin McGuire said: “We are appreciative of New York State’s commitment to full representation and support of families engaged in the child welfare system, and are dedicated to this partnership with LSHV to achieve even better outcomes for the children and families we serve throughout Westchester County.”

LSHV’s Chief Executive Officer Barbara Finkelstein said: “At Legal Services of the Hudson Valley, we advocate for individuals and families who cannot afford legal representation when their basic needs are at stake.

This important collaboration with Westchester County will advance our clients’ due process rights while also helping them get the benefits and services they need. We could not do this important work without the support of our partners in government and because of this pilot program, hundreds of Westchester County families will receive critical legal assistance to ensure that they have a fair chance in the justice system.” 

The Family Defense Unit attorneys will be tasked with providing the appropriate legal and support services necessary for the clients, social workers will assess the needs of each family to provide case and crisis management, and parent advocates will provide peer-to-peer support to families on a weekly basis.

LSHV, Westchester County’s lead agency in domestic violence legal services, already has four community-based offices located in Mount Vernon, Peekskill, White Plains and Yonkers. The Westchester County Family Defense Unit is set to open in 2020.