As some of you may have seen, a recent newspaper article about the new law regarding legal representation for foster children was not entirely accurate – including how it portrayed Partners for Our Children’s stance on the matter.
Child welfare matters are complicated and can be very challenging to capture in a succinct, yet thorough and accurate manner. We appreciate efforts to educate the public about child welfare issues, laws, practices and policies, but we want our partners, policymakers and other interested parties to see the whole picture. Legal representation is a pivotal issue in child welfare that has the potential to affect many vulnerable children and families in our state, so it was important to us to set the record straight – so you understand the law and where we stand on the issue.
- What is the new law? Engrossed Second Substitute Senate Bill 6126, passed by the legislature this year, will go into effect on July 1. The big change this new law will bring about is that children whose parents’ rights have been terminated for at least six months, regardless of their age, will be appointed an attorney. Previously, children 12 and over were told of their right to request an attorney, but they were not required to receive one.
- How were children represented in court before this new law? Currently, some children in the state have attorneys appointed, per the practice of individual counties. Many children are being appointed a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) or Guardian ad Litem (GAL). A number of children have both an attorney and CASA/GAL. The attorney represents the stated interest of the child and the CASA/GAL represents the best interest. The “stated interest” is what the child says they want (i.e. to stay at home, to stay at foster home, etc.) and the “best interest” is what an CASA/GAL believes is the best situation for the child. While the stated interest and best interest may differ, they may also be the same. Both are significant in dependency matters and both advocate on behalf of children. Partners for Our Children understands the importance of CASAs/GALs as well as attorneys, and supports the involvement of both in dependency cases.
- What is Partners for Our Children’s stance on this issue? Partners for Our Children was very interested in a section of the bill that was removed that would have established a pilot program whereby all children, not solely legally free children, would have been appointed an attorney early in the case – the pilot would be evaluated to better understand the impact the attorney might have on child outcomes. While the pilot program and evaluation were taken out of the bill, we support the final law that passed – and hope that one day legal representation can be formally evaluated to better understand how it affects foster children.
We hope the article has not created too much confusion. If you have any questions about this new law or other child welfare-related issues, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.