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).

…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

[email protected]


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

[email protected]


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.