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 are the subject of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse or neglect. The Child Welfare Unit consists of three divisions:
- Adoptions & Domestic Relations Division
- Juvenile Justice Division
- Administrative Appeals & Solicitor Review Division
The Adoption and Domestic Relations Division is the largest division consisting of 35-40 attorneys that represent DHS in Family Court throughout the various phases of litigation. The Adoptions and Domestic Relations Division is separated in two distinct sections:
- In the Domestic Relations section, 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.
- 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 Division is comprised of attorneys that represent DHS in dependency hearings in courtrooms that are specially designated to address:
- Minor victims of sex trafficking that require specialized trauma-informed treatment in the least restrictive manner
- Youth who have committed delinquent acts but are also dependent.
The Administration Appeals & Solicitor Review Division 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.
Nicolette Burgess-Bolden began her career in the Law Department in April 2001 and was promoted to chief of administration and specialty practice in September 2017 with the restructuring and expansion of the Child Welfare Unit (CWU). As Chief of Administration, Nicolette is responsible for identifying and addressing systemic issues in child welfare law; operational issues in the CWU and training and professional development of the CWU staff. As Chief of Specialty Practice, Nicolette has oversight of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals (BHA) and Solicitor Review of Child Protective Services Reports Dispositions (SR) work; oversight for the liaisons between DHS and the Domestic Relations Court; including cross-system collaboration, information sharing and data sharing; management and oversight of the attorneys who serve the Juvenile Justice Services division, including Human Trafficking Court; the adoptions work and the Accelerated Adoption Review Court (AARC); and the Older Youth and Another Planned Permanent Living Arrangement (APPLA) Courtroom.
Prior to joining the law department, Nicolette was an associate with the Law Office of Leon W. Tucker, Esquire. She specialized in trial advocacy and civil litigation, representing parties, both plaintiffs and defendants, in lawsuits involving allegations of negligence, premises and products and motor vehicle liability, medical causation issues, death, and catastrophic injuries. She is a graduate of Spelman College and North Carolina Central University School of Law.
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.