The Causal Impact of Legal Representation for Foster Youth

Last registered on December 06, 2023


Trial Information

General Information

The Causal Impact of Legal Representation for Foster Youth
Initial registration date
November 22, 2023

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
December 06, 2023, 7:48 AM EST

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.


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Primary Investigator

University of Notre Dame

Other Primary Investigator(s)

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Prior work
This trial does not extend or rely on any prior RCTs.
Indiana lags behind national averages in terms of foster child reunification rates and time to permanency, and is currently one of only six states that does not guarantee direct legal representation for any youth in foster care. Legal representation for children in foster care could shorten out-of-home placement duration by reducing unnecessary removals or placement changes, expediting steps that support timely reunification, and providing an adult confidante trained to advocate for and provide legal counsel to foster youth. This study evaluates the impact of legal representation for youth in the child welfare system. We will identify impact by randomly allocating access to legal counsel provided by Child Advocates, an Indiana-based nonprofit organization. Eligible youth will be randomized at the beginning of their child welfare case and outcomes will be measured at 12 and 24 months post-randomization, using administrative data from the state’s child welfare agency and the department of education. Outcomes of interest include family preservation (when applicable), reunification, time to permanency, stability while in care, probability of placement in residential facility, implications for public finance, academic performance and juvenile justice outcomes.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Kroeger, Sarah. 2023. "The Causal Impact of Legal Representation for Foster Youth." AEA RCT Registry. December 06.
Experimental Details


Child Advocates is a non-profit based in Indianapolis that offers vital programs and services to children in the child welfare system who have experienced abuse and neglect. One of their programs provides direct attorney representation for children within the child welfare system. The attorneys have extensive experience representing minors. Judges will refer or appoint Child Advocates attorneys to the cases of older youth in the child welfare system. These attorneys, who are experienced in working with minors and well-versed in child welfare law, represent each child in court, advocate for their expressed interests, help them navigate the complexities of the foster care system, and connect them with other resources. The attorneys file motions on behalf of their clients regarding such issues as placement changes, contact with parents or other guardians, needed treatments or services, school and extracurricular activities, or anything else that might affect the client’s wellbeing. The attorneys also serve as trusted adult confidantes to their clients during a period of trauma and instability.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Our primary outcomes are permanency by 12 and 24 months post-randomization.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Secondary outcomes include:
- Child welfare outcomes: youth safety, stability while in care, placement in residential facility, cost
- Education outcomes: school attendance, enrollment stability, suspension and other disciplinary events, disability status, on-time grade progression, high school graduation
- Juvenile justice outcomes: delinquency status (dual status), juvenile arrests, incarceration
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
- Youth safety: risk of hospitalization or runaway
- Stability while in care: moves per 1,000 nights in out of home care
- Placement in residential facility: risk of residential placement
- Cost: total cost per child welfare case, including costs of placement and medical care
- Education outcomes: school attendance, enrollment stability, suspension and other disciplinary events, disability status, on-time grade progression, high school graduation
- Juvenile justice outcomes: delinquency status (dual status), juvenile arrests, incarceration

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
This study will be conducted through a randomized controlled trial. We will randomly assign half the applicable cases to the treatment group to receive legal counsel, and the other half to the control group. Only children ages 12 and older will be included. Children in the control group will not be assigned an attorney. If the Judge feels the youth needs to receive attorney representation (for example, in the case of CHINS 3.5 or CHINS 6), the Judge can choose to not include that case in the study. In this case, the youth will receive a court-appointed attorney and will not be randomized. Youth in both the treatment and control might be assigned an (additional) attorney at some point after study enrollment, but this will not change their study enrollment or randomization status.

Randomization will be stratified at the court, initial hearing week, gender, and sibling group level. Our preferred empirical specification will regress outcomes of interest on treatment status and strata fixed effects. Siblings with initial hearings on the same court docket will be assigned the same randomization status, within the gender of an index sibling.

Children in the treatment group will sign a retainer agreement to confirm that they assent to representation by Child Advocates (a copy of this retainer is attached). Children in the control group will have no interactions with Child Advocates. We plan to follow the treatment and control groups in administrative data sources, including the Indiana Department of Child Services and Indiana Department of Education.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Randomization in Qualtrics will occur within groups defined by court (presiding judge), initial hearing date, gender, and family (sibling groups). Treatment probability will start at 50% and will be adjusted as needed to match the size of the treatment group to attorney capacity.
Randomization Unit
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
600 individuals
Sample size: planned number of observations
600 individuals
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
600 individuals with approximately 300 of those in treatment
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
With two years of enrollment, the intended sample size will be 600, with approximately 300 individuals assigned to the treatment group (receiving representation from Child Advocates) and 300 assigned to the control group (not receiving representation). If additional funding becomes available for a third year of enrolment, then we will expand the sample size beyond 600 children. We expect permanency within 24 months will be achieved by about 68 percent of cases in the control group, and parental reunification will be reached by 50%. With a program take-up rate of 90%, a sample of 600 will be powered to confirm an effect size on permanency that is at least 11.24 percentage points, and effects of at least 12 points for reunification.
Supporting Documents and Materials


Document Name
Retainer Agreement
Document Type
Document Description
Retainer Agreement

MD5: a6fff3c3583ce68474a1bcbd03f9c0d3

SHA1: a63bba8c523bc5728145c27397accb42656dba9c

Uploaded At: November 22, 2023


Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
The University of Notre Dame Institutional Review Board
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number