The Social Services Group consists of three units.
Child Welfare Unit
The Child Welfare Unit represents the Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS is the child welfare agency responsible for providing safe and permanent solutions for children with at-risk behaviors or who are the subject of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse or neglect. The Child Welfare Unit consists of two divisions:
- Litigation & Appeals
- Administration & Specialty Practice
The Litigation & Appeals Division is the largest division consisting of 35-40 attorneys that represent DHS in Family Court throughout the various phases of litigation. The attorneys litigate cases involving youth that are the subject of a dependency petition. These attorneys consult with DHS on the filing of a dependency petition as well as represent DHS during the shelter care, adjudicatory, and review hearing phases of litigation. Their representation continues until termination of parental rights.
The Administration & Specialty Practice Division is separated into three distinct sections.
- In the Adoptions section, attorneys litigate cases in review hearings where parents have already had their rights terminated and the youth are awaiting adoption.
- The Juvenile Justice/Older Youth section is comprised of attorneys that represent DHS in dependency hearings in courtrooms that are specially designated to address:
- Minor victims of sex trafficking who require specialized trauma-informed treatment in the least restrictive manner.
- Youth who have committed delinquent acts but are also dependent.
- Youth who will transition into adulthood.
- The Administration Appeals & Solicitor Review section is comprised of attorneys who appear before an Administrative Law Judge at the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) on behalf of DHS in hearings that involve an appeal from an indicated child abuse report.
Karen manages the administration of the Child Welfare Unit (CWU) and supervises the Specialty Practice Groups, which include the Adoptions, Older Youth, and Bureau of Hearings and Appeals teams.
Karen is a graduate of Wesleyan University and attended the University of California at Berkeley Law School. She was a big firm litigator in San Francisco and on Wall Street before moving to Philadelphia and joining the Law Department in 1993. She began her career in the Law Department in the Commercial Litigation Unit before leaving to join the legal department at the Philadelphia Housing Authority. She then spent many years as in-house counsel at CIGNA Corporation. After CIGNA, Karen took some time off from the profession to spend more time with her daughter, who became a nationally ranked Division I basketball player. She taught as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Philadelphia while also working in a small law firm doing custody, support, divorce, and dependency work before coming back to the Law Department in 2016 when she joined the CWU.
Jonathan Houlon is a 1995 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He has practiced in the Child Welfare Unit of Law Department since 1996 and, in this capacity, has represented the Philadelphia Department of Human Services (DHS) in its mission to protect abused and neglected children. Jon began as an assistant city solicitor and then graduated to deputy and eventually chief of the CWU, a position he currently shares with Nicolette Burgess-Bolden. Jon has been recognized by Philadelphia HIAS for his work on immigration matters involving DHS youth and has also served as DHS’ representative on the Administrative Offices of the Pennsylvania Courts’ Older Youth Committee. In addition to his accomplishments in the legal profession, Jon has released 12 albums of his original compositions with his bands, John Train and The Donuts. With these combos, he has toured the world and elsewhere.