…And We’ll Keep on Fighting ’til the End: Spotlighting Legislative Champions of Counsel for Kids

Right to counsel policy reform depends on the leadership and support of legislative champions to flourish. When a learned and respected politician guides a bill through the lawmaking process, it builds targeted support among influential legislators, coalesces agreement among committee staffers, and eventually helps secure the votes needed to pass a bill into law. Legislative advocacy may be confusing and unfamiliar terrain for child welfare practitioners pursuing right to counsel policy reform in their state. The expertise of a skilled legislative champion is invaluable to developing a large, bipartisan coalition in support of a right to counsel bill. The coalition must include more than other legislators; in many states, the high turnover of elected officials means that staffers have significant influence in the crafting and passage of legislation. Navigating this political minefield requires the guidance and collaboration of a leader — a champion — who understands both the policy issue and the dynamics of the statehouse.

In this issue of The Guardian, we spotlight legislative champions from Arizona, Washington, and Florida who championed children’s right to counsel in 2021.


In Arizona, Sen. Nancy Barto sponsored Senate Bill 1391 (2021). The bill shifts the state’s dependency child legal representation system from a best interest model to a model guaranteeing client-directed legal counsel to every child and permits the appointment of a guardian ad litem that must be an attorney. The bill was signed into law by Governor Ducey in April 2021. To achieve this victory, Sen. Barto ensured the bill stayed on track and scheduled for committees, while educating and galvanizing her peers to vote in favor of children’s right to counsel. She says,

“As some of the most vulnerable within our purview, the rights of dependent children should no longer be overlooked. They deserve to have their rights protected, especially within the agency whose stated goal is achieving their best interest and outcome — but that is literally impossible if they are denied the protection and advocacy professional legal representation can provide on their behalf.”

Senator Nancy Barto


In Washington State, Rep. Noel Frame championed House Bill 1219 (2021), which requires the appoint-ment of client-directed legal counsel for children aged eight and older, and was signed into law by Governor Inslee in May 2021. The provisions requiring appointment of attorneys will be phased in on a county-by-county basis over a six-year period, with full implementation by January 1, 2027. The legislation also mandates the convening of a children’s legal representation standards workgroup to update standards of practice, generate training guidelines, and establish caseload limits. Additionally, the work-group must submit recommendations to the legislature on research and best practices regarding the legal representation of children under eight years of age. Rep. Frame worked with lawmakers and coali-tions of experts with lived experience to explicate details of the bill to lawmakers unfamiliar with child welfare practice, challenge problematic amendments, and develop extraordinary bipartisan support.


In Florida, Sen. Lauren Book, sponsored Senate Bill 1920 (2021) requiring the appointment of client-directed counsel for children in licensed foster care. The right to legal counsel for youth involved in the child welfare system has been a topic of significant, historical debate in Florida. Sen. Book met individually with many committee members to help them understand the critical need for children’s legal representation. With Sen. Book’s leadership, this proposal enjoyed unprecedented support in each Senate sub-committee before it reached Senate appropriations, where time ran out before a vote occurred. Though SB 1920 never reached Florida’s House of Representatives for consideration, the issue of right to counsel was examined in a House workshop on children’s legal representation where legislators explored the issue with input from child welfare experts. When asked how she garnered support to move the legislation through committees, Sen. Book explains several key steps, including:

  • “Addressing issues raised by my constituents and current and former foster youth and incorporating them into the bill;
  • Arranging for presentations and public testimony on relevant issues, such as the various roles of an attorney versus a guardian ad litem in dependency proceedings;
  • Ensuring that members understand the provisions and the benefits of the legislation;
  • Engaging in dialogue with the members to address any of their comments and concerns; and
  • Amending the legislation throughout the process to address such concerns and to produce the best version of the bill.”

Sen. Book is the sponsor of Senate Bill 948 in the 2022 legislative session. Like SB 1920 (2021), this bill proposes a guaranteed right to counsel for youth placed in licensed out-of-home care. Senator Book continues to lead the charge for children’s right to counsel in Florida.

Senator Lauren Book


The progress of the 2021 class of right to counsel bills is due in large part to the strategic efforts of these legislators who recognize the value of children’s representation and the urgency of this long overdue reform. These champions armed themselves with empirical research on improved outcomes with legal representation to show the difference child attorneys make for children and the child welfare system. They partnered with lived experience experts to educate legislative committees on what attor-neys mean to young people experiencing foster care. They shared information and resources on various models of representation and the additional Title IV-E funding opportunities to reimburse some of the costs for legal representation. Finally, they made themselves available to answer the questions of their peers, visiting them in their offices or taking their phone calls.

What does this mean for state advocates looking to ensure Counsel for Kids in their jurisdiction? Identification of a legislative champion who is ready and willing to sponsor a bill must be an important part of advocacy planning. Ongoing collaboration between right to counsel advocates, allies and the sponsoring legislator creates the ideal environment for a bill to end its journey on the governor’s desk for signature.

Why Children Facing Abuse Deserve A Free Attorney – Child Advocates

Parents in a child welfare case in Indiana can get a free attorney to stand up for their rights—but not children. Child Advocates has broken new ground and is standing up for youth justice by launching a program where older children receive representation from an attorney.

Find out how the Direct Representation program is changing children’s lives and saving the state money. Listen to Episode 7 of the Child Advocates Podcast.


Cindy Booth / Child Advocates CEO
Rachel Roman Lagunas / Director of Direct Representation
Angela Cain / Communications Consultant / Podcast Host

Oh Baby, You Need A Lawyer – Natalece Washington presents at ZERO to THREE

Oh Baby, You Need A Lawyer! Video Recording

Natalece Washington, JD, CWLS, NACC Policy Counsel, presented at the ZERO to THREE conference in October, 2021. Presentation begins around 2:30 mark.

Washington, N. (2021, October). Oh Baby, You Need a Lawyer. ZERO TO THREE Annual Conference 2021. For more content like this, visit ZERO TO THREE to purchase the Conference Library, with access to most conference presentations as well as CEUs. Use discount code “FRIEND” at checkout to receive $20 off your purchase.

Washington State Dependent Child Legal Representation Program Shows Benefits of Counsel for Kids

In 2016, the Washington State Legislature created the Dependent Child Legal Representation Program to study offering “Standards-Based Legal Representation to all dependent youth in Grant and Lewis counties”. In comparison to two control counties, the study found that children with representation were 45% more likely to achieve reunification and saw a 30% reduction in placement moves and a 65% reduction in the rate of “non-normative school transitions.” Read the full report.

Press release – Leading Family and Justice Organizations Urge Congress to Guarantee Legal Counsel for Children and Parents in Child Welfare Proceedings

For Immediate Release

October 28, 2021

Lawmakers considering historic proposal through Child Abuse, Prevention, and Treatment Act reauthorization

WASHINGTON — As Congress considers legislation to reauthorize the Child Abuse, Prevention, and Treatment Act (CAPTA), hundreds of national, state, and local organizations signed a letter urging congressional leaders to guarantee legal counsel for children and parents involved in child welfare court proceedings.

Enacted in 1974, CAPTA is the only piece of federal legislation to address the representation of children in dependency cases. If passed, reauthorization could guarantee legal counsel for children and parents in child welfare court proceedings for the first time under federal law. Supporters include 50 national organizations, 85 state organizations, 41 law firms, and individual signatories from 47 states. Supporters represent 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, state agencies, local Court Appointed Special Advocate programs, and more.

As states across the country expand and strengthen the right to counsel—including changes to state law in Arizona, North Dakota, and Washington state in 2021—the proposed federal legislation comes at a pivotal tipping point for the child welfare system to finally expand access to justice for all youth. Despite this trend, 14 states still do not guarantee legal representation for youth involved in dependency cases, even though legal representation is widely considered best practice. This federal legislation would ensure that all youth and parents each have independent legal counsel as courts make important decisions about their families and futures.

“Providing independent legal counsel is the only way to ensure that the voices of all parties in child welfare proceedings are heard,” said Kim Dvorchak, Executive Director of the National Association of Counsel for Children. “Attorneys help judges understand the facts of the case and make the best decision for children, parents, and families.”

“Reauthorizing the Child Abuse, Prevention, and Treatment Act is a key opportunity for Congress to affirm the fundamental principles of justice for children and parents in dependency cases,” said Celeste Bodner, Executive Director of FosterClub, the national network for young people in foster care. “No one should have to go to court alone—especially when their family and future are at stake.”   


Contact: Evan Molinari


Press Release – Counsel for Kids: New Campaign Launches to Ensure Attorneys for Children in Foster Care

Counsel for Kids works to change laws to guarantee children a right to counsel 

DENVER, CO. — With 673,000 children navigating America’s child welfare courts every year and enduring concerns about unequal access to justice, today the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) launches a new campaign, Counsel for Kids, dedicated to ensuring that children in foster care receive lawyers of their own. A first-of-its-kind effort, Counsel for Kids will equip advocates with the skills, tools, and training to amplify the voices of children and youth as key decisions are made about their families and their futures. 

No federal law or protection guarantees that children in foster care receive attorneys of their own, and right now 14 states leave youth to navigate complex child welfare proceedings without legal assistance. This campaign launches at a pivotal moment, as Congress considers landmark legislation that would ensure legal counsel for children and parents in these cases.” Absent legal counsel, courts and agencies risk making vital decisions about a child’s home, family, and future without their input. 

Counsel for Kids is working to change that by mobilizing advocates and legal professionals to change the law in states that do not currently guarantee legal representation for kids in court. The campaign provides technical assistance to advocates and organizations around drafting and proposing legislation, building coalitions, strategic policy advocacy, and communications. It will also focus on increasing the number of attorneys representing children and ensuring those lawyers receive the specialized training they need. 

“In a system where I had reduced voice, options, and rights, having a lawyer who is required by law to be my advocate and voice was essential for me to meaningfully engage and shape my life in the already limited ways I could,” said Ariella Stafanson, member of NACC’s National Advisory Council for Children’s Legal Representation and lived experience expert. 

“Too often, the one person at the center of a child welfare case is also the one person who doesn’t get their own lawyer,” said Kim Dvorchak, Executive Director of NACC. “We launched the Counsel for Kids campaign to ensure that all youth experiencing the child welfare system, from babies to young adults, are seen, heard, and represented. When a young person is sick, they should see a doctor. When a young person is in court, they should have a lawyer.” 

“The assistance we receive from Counsel for Kids will be vital to our efforts to guarantee legal representation for children in our state,” said attorney Whitney Untiedt, an advocate from Foster Fairness of Florida—one of the first states to apply for technical assistance. “Counsel for Kids will help us plan our advocacy strategy, identify tools and resources for our campaign, and build a coalition positioned to pursue right to counsel legislation for Florida youth.” 



Evan Molinari


About Counsel for Kids 

Counsel for Kids is a campaign dedicated to ensuring that children in the nation’s foster care system have access to lawyers of their own so that their voices are heard and respected. We work to increase the number of attorneys representing children, and to mobilize advocates and attorneys working to change the law in states that do not currently guarantee legal representation for kids in court. We also work to build new coalitions and provide technical assistance to lawyers and advocates, from drafting legislation to training sessions about fundraising and development. We have one singular mission: bringing real and lasting change. For additional information about Counsel for Kids, visit 

About The National Association of Counsel for Children 

Founded in 1977, the National Association of Counsel for Children is a non-profit professional membership and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing justice for children, youth, and families. NACC provides programs, training, certification, and resources that improve the quality of legal representation for children, parents, and agencies; supports a community of dedicated professionals and helps attract and retain diverse talent in the children’s legal advocacy profession; and advocates for policies that advance children’s rights, including the right to counsel. 

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

On October 25, 2021 NACC and partners 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.

There is still time to add your or your organization’s support for legal counsel for children and parents in the child welfare system. CAPTA reauthorization is a key opportunity to ensure right to counsel through federal legislation, so please sign on here.

Counsel for Kids Webinar 11/3

Road to Change – How 3 States Achieved Right to Counsel for Children

Left to right: Janet Bledsoe, Connie Hickman Tanner, Liz Trautman, Samuel Martin, and Meghaen Dell’Artino

November 3, 2021

3:00pm-4:30pm EST

Join us to hear three separate accounts of the journey to right to counsel policy reform at the state level.  

Policy advocates from Arkansas, Washington, and Arizona will share the challenges faced and the strategies most effective in garnering support for legislation guaranteeing right to counsel for children and youth in their state. 


Janet L. Bledsoe is the Assistant Director of the Dependency-Neglect Attorney ad Litem Program in Arkansas.  Before being named Assistant Director, she was one of the first full-time attorneys employed by the Attorney ad Litem Program in Arkansas where she represented children in all aspects of Dependency-Neglect cases.  Janet is committed to high-quality legal representation for children and families involved in the court system and has presented nationally at conferences for both the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) and the ABA Center for Children and Families. Janet’s work experience prior to the Dependency-Neglect Attorney ad Litem Program includes both the private practice of law from and serving as a field attorney for the Arkansas Department of Human Services, Office of Chief Counsel.  Janet earned an LL.M. from Loyola University Chicago, a J.D. from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, and a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama.  Janet currently serves on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counsel for Children. 

Connie Hickman Tanner, JD has 30 years of experience working with courts and stakeholders. She began her legal career with the Federal District Court, Office of Desegregation Monitoring, working with a team to monitor compliance of the Pulaski County Desegregation Settlement Agreement. She then joined the Arkansas Supreme Court Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC), where she worked for 24 years, first as a Staff Attorney, then Director of Juvenile Court Service, and finally as Court Services Director.  At the AOC she supervised the Judicial Education Division that provided ongoing continuing legal education for all appellate, circuit and district judges, Public Education and Community Outreach and Domestic Violence Programs. She also supervised all Juvenile Court Programs, including the Court Improvement Program (CIP) State Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs) Program, Dependency-Neglect Attorney Ad Litem Program, and Parent Counsel Program. Hickman Tanner served with a team of talented professionals and judges at the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges as Chief Program Officer for Child Welfare and Juvenile Law and then as the Chief Program Officer of Child Welfare, Juvenile Law, Domestic Violence, and Domestic Relations. 

Liz Trautman (she/her) is the Director of Public Policy and Advocacy at The Mockingbird Society, a nonprofit organization based in Washington State that works to transform foster care and end youth homelessness. She has previous experience in youth and young adult homelessness policy, advocacy, and communications. She served in the Peace Corps, and holds a BS from Georgetown University and an MPA from the University of Washington. In addition to her work at Mockingbird, she is the board chair of the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance, a state-wide organization leading the movement for safe, healthy, affordable homes.  In her free time, she likes to spend time with her family, do crossword puzzles, and make jam.  

Samuel Martin is the CEO and Head Lobbyist of S.D. Martin Consulting which works with government administrations, corporations, and non-profit organizations to develop legislation and policies to positively impact the lives of the community. He has also done legislative agenda setting and advocacy with organizations like Casey Family Programs, Foster Club, the Congressional Coalition on Adoption institute (CCAI), and Foster Care Alumni of America (FCAA). Samuel is also an experienced lobbyist, trainer, and public speaker, having been a featured speaker and facilitator for several organizations like, Treehouse, Community for Youth, and City Year. With a combined 15 years of community engagement experience, Samuel engages a wide variety of audiences with positive intent and impact. Moreover, Samuel is also an established academic. He has obtained a bachelor’s degree in Political Science from the University of Washington – Seattle Campus. He also obtained his Master’s in Public Administration at Seattle University.

Meghaen Dell’Artino is the Vice President of Government Affairs for Gen Justice, bringing over 20 years of award-winning lobbying experience to the mission of creating stronger laws and policies for abused and abandoned children. Adept in all aspects of the political process, Meghaen is frequently recognized as one of Arizona’s top lobbyists. Recently named to the inaugural class of Arizona’s Women Achievers, her work and expertise have also been highlighted by The Arizona Republic, Arizona Capitol Times, and the Phoenix Business Journal. Meghaen has successfully championed the passage of numerous bills for child victims, including the appointment of lawyers for foster children in their court cases, expanding the timeframe for sexual abuse victims to seek justice, and ensuring that law enforcement have the necessary tools to search and rescue children missing from state care.