Alaska Foster Youth Get More Input in their Cases

Alaska foster youth will soon have more of a say in what happens with their cases. 

In early April, the Alaska Supreme Court passed Order No. 1979, which amends court rules to allow foster youth the ability to attend hearings and have court-appointed attorneys argue their own wishes in their cases….

Under the new order, youth in foster care will now have their lawyers represent their wishes when they refuse residential or psychiatric treatment, are themselves parents, want their therapy records private, or are on “runaway status” from a foster home. 

Read more in The Imprint.

NACC & Partners Deliver Sign-on Letter Showing Broad Support for Legal Counsel

The National Association of Counsel for Children and partners recently delivered a letter to Congress endorsing access to legal counsel for children and parents in child welfare proceedings through Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) reauthorization. Signed by over 750 individuals and organizations, the letter encompasses widespread support from nearly every corner of the child welfare field, including foster youth-led organizations, judges, community service providers, civil rights groups, district attorneys, education advocates, immigrant rights groups, tribal law organizations, philanthropic entities, local and state agencies, and more.

More: NACC’s CAPTA advocacy.

Counsel for Kids Rings in 2022 with Legislative Action in 3 States

The Counsel for Kids campaign rang in the New Year with the melody of multi-state legislative action to advance children’s right to counsel.  Three states have made children’s legal representation a priority area for policy development.   

In Florida, Senator Lauren Book sponsored SB 948 in a renewed effort to establish a Statewide Office of Child Representation and guarantee counsel for children in licensed foster care homes.  Unlike last year’s bill (which did not pass), SB 948 is accompanied by companion bill House Bill (HB) 1549.  On January 11th, the first hearing  was held before the Children, Family, and Elders Committee.  Lived experience experts and child welfare law practitioners testified in support of the bill—which passed unanimously. The bill drew significant interest from multiple media outlets.  It now awaits hearing by the Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice.  Mirroring HB 1549 was referred to Children, Families, and Seniors, Health and Human Services, Judiciary, and Appropriations House committees and has not yet been scheduled for public hearing at the time of this writing.  NACC submitted a letter of support for SB 948.   

In Indiana, SB 180 was filed in January, initially proposing a guaranteed right to counsel for children in child welfare proceedings. During a January 10th public hearing on this bipartisan proposal, testimony was taken from a number of stakeholders including attorneys, foster parents, and judges.  Consideration was also given to an expert affidavit offered by Professor Emeritus Don Duquette regarding cost savings linked to children’s right to counsel. The committee voted unanimously in favor of passing the bill on to the Appropriations committee.  The media response was swift.  On January 20th, while assigned to the Appropriations committee, the bill was amended to request that an interim study committee consider the implications of this potential reform.  This amendment passed unanimously. As a state with a biennium budget, Indiana generally passes legislation with fiscal impact every other year.  NACC is optimistic about continued momentum on this issue in 2023. View NACC’s letters of support for original SB 180 and its amendment

Colorado is also using legislative reform to align its children’s legal representation statute with nationally-recognized best practices. In Colorado, children in child welfare proceedings must be appointed an attorney guardian ad litem.  New legislation, HB 22-1038, would require the appointment of a client-directed attorney for any child age 12 and older. The bill would also establish the party status of the child in court proceedings. Media attention and support from lived experience experts for the proposal began before the bill was formally filed.  The bill is committed to the House Judiciary committee, but will go to Appropriations if a fiscal note is assessed.   

‘It’s important for kids to have a voice’: FL lawmakers propose mandatory lawyer for foster children

When it comes to court, it’s every foster child for themselves in some Florida counties.

Florida is one of 14 states that does not guarantee a foster child will get a lawyer during court proceedings, according to the National Association of Counsel for Children.

“A lot of these kids — they’ve been abused and neglected,” said Robert Johnson….

Read more and watch the video from NBC-WESH 2

Children in foster care don’t always get an attorney in Indiana. That could change.

A bill before Indiana lawmakers could require juvenile judges to appoint attorneys for children in the foster care system.

Senate Bill 180 would require a judge to appoint an attorney to represent cases involving children in need of services (CHINS) and termination of parental rights (TPR). Currently, a judge can choose whether to appoint an attorney to represent a child in these cases.

“When you think about a child in the welfare system and their case, they’re really the only ones currently in Indiana that don’t have representation,” the bill’s author, state Sen. Jon Ford (R-Terre Haute), said before the Senate Committee on Family and Children Services Jan. 10…

Read more in the Indianapolis Star.

Indiana lawmakers consider bill to appoint all children experiencing foster care an attorney

The Indiana Senate is considering a bill that would provide counsel for youth experiencing foster care in Indiana. SB 180 advanced unanimously through the Family and Children Services Committee and now moves to the Appropriations Committee.

“Children really need a team, and a complete team, that ensures that their legal rights are protected,” said Joshua Oswald, an advocate with lived experience in the child welfare system.

View video from local CBS news on this bill.

Florida Senator Lauren Book’s child welfare bill advances in committee

Florida children in certain kinds of proceedings would automatically be appointed an attorney under this legislation.

Sen. Lauren Book’s bill that would guarantee an attorney is appointed for children in the state’s care advanced in committee Tuesday — but not before the bill drew heartbreaking testimony both for and against.

The Senate Democratic Leader’s legislation (SB 948) would create the Office of Child Representation to provide an attorney to represent a minor who is involved in abuse or neglect, going through delinquency proceedings, or the subject of parental termination of rights. Republican Rep. Randy Maggard has filed an identical bill (HB 1549) in the House…

Read more in Florida Politics. And listen in Florida Public Radio’s coverage of the bill (17:40 mark).