BFDP’s diverse and talented staff provides interdisciplinary representation to families—attorneys work in teams with social workers, parent advocates, and legal and social work interns. BFDP’s Administrative Department provides the support needed in a high volume litigation-oriented practice.
BFDP recruits attorneys, social workers and parent advocates who consider themselves civil rights activists committed to advocating on behalf of poor people against unwarranted state intervention in their families’ lives. BFDP staff members provide parents with the support and intervention they need to achieve positive change in their lives and overcome the challenges of parenting and poverty.
BFDP has 23 attorneys on staff. Attorneys have high caseloads and face the daily challenge of addressing the complex and multifaceted needs of clients while providing high quality legal representation in a face paced and crisis-oriented practice. BFDP has five attorney supervisors, maintaining a low ratio of supervisors to attorneys to ensure high quality work through hands-on supervision in court, ongoing case reviews and evaluations, and review of all court papers. BFDP supervisors also work closely with attorneys on appeals. Legal interns from area law schools and a strong pro bono project provide additional support to attorneys.
BFDP’s collaboration with NYU School of Law’s Family Defense Clinic promotes an environment of teaching and learning about the practice of law. Each year, twelve law students and two social work students from the clinic support our work in our more complicated cases. Co-directors Marty Guggenheim and Chris Gottlieb, both experts in the child welfare field, assist with ongoing training and support in individual cases.
BFDP’s Social Work Department includes a supervising social worker, four social workers and three parent advocates. BFDP has one of the largest social work intern programs in the City: each year, BFDP hosts ten social work students from Hunter College, Columbia University, and Fordham University. The primary focus of BFDP’s Social Work Department is to advocate for clients at agency case conferences. BFDP social workers and parent advocates help develop and negotiate service plans, as well as negotiate visiting arrangements and child placement issues. Their role at these conferences is essential to ensure that parents’ voices are heard and respected, and that New York City Children’s Services and foster care agencies make a balanced assessment of the families’ strengths and weaknesses. Out-of-court advocates refer clients for appropriate services and communicate with referral sources about clients’ progress; they advocate for clients at public assistance centers and fair hearings, and help clients establish eligibility for SSI.
Lauren Shapiro, Attorney-in-Charge, founded BFDP in 2007. Co-founders, Lynn Vogelstein and Jessica Marcus, former attorneys in the family law unit at South Brooklyn Legal Services, are BFDP’s senior supervising attorneys. Gittel Kagan, BFDP’s co-founder and director of social work, previously worked for many years as a social worker at Legal Services NYC in Brooklyn.