Pending Legislation Across the Country to Advance Children’s Right to  Counsel

Momentum is building around the country to ensure counsel for kids experiencing the child protection system.

Florida Senate Bill 488 would expand the categories of dependent children who are 
entitled to counsel and require the state agency to work directly with the Justice Administrative Commission to obtain Title IV-E funds for children’s legal representation. The bill was referred to Senate Judiciary, Appropriations Committee on Criminal and Civil Justice, and Fiscal Policy on February 9. 

Illinois Senate Bill 1478 would grant children placed in foster care the right to a court-appointed, client-directed attorney in any abuse or neglect proceeding. Senator Ann Gillespie convened a press conference in Springfield, Illinois on February 8 and NACC’s National Law School Student Organizer Leyda Garcia-Greenawalt shared her support for children’s right to counsel. The bill was assigned to the Judiciary Committee on February 14. 

Indiana House Bill 1172 originally would guarantee legal counsel for a small 
subset of children involved in child in need of services or termination of parental 
rights cases. NACC offered written comments in support of the bill. Unfortunately, on 
February 16, the House Judiciary Committee removed all language extending youth’s right to counsel. 

Kansas House Bill 2381 would require the court to appoint an attorney to represent a child who is the subject of a child in need of care proceeding and permit the optional appointment of a guardian ad litem. This bill would change Kansas’ best interest attorney model to a client directed model. The House Committee on Judiciary held a public hearing on February 16. NACC submitted written comments in support of the bill. 

Montana House Bill 37 would require the appointment of legal counsel to any child subject to abuse and neglect court proceedings notwithstanding the appointment of a guardian ad litem. The House Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on January 10. NACC Policy Counsel Natalece Washington offered written and public comments (@9:55) in support of counsel for kids. The committee voted 18-1 to approve the bill for consideration by the whole House. A companion bill, Montana Senate Bill 148, would also guarantee legal counsel for children in dependency cases.  

Mississippi House Bill 1149 would ensure children are appointed client-directed legal counsel at all stages of a proceeding and ensure the child is deemed a party to the proceeding. The bill passed the House on February 2 was transmitted to the Senate and referred to Senate Judiciary A. 

Missouri House Bill 1170 would guarantee the appointment of client-directed legal 
counsel for children at all stages of a child abuse and neglect or termination of 
parental rights proceeding and make discretionary the appointment of a guardian ad 

New Hampshire House Bill 535 would permit the court to appoint counsel for a child in abuse and neglect proceedings where the child’s expressed interests conflict with any recommendation of the guardian ad litem. The House Children and Family Law committee held a public hearing on the bill on January 24. NACC submitted written comments in support of the bill. The bill was considered in executive session on February 21. 

Oklahoma SB 907 (Companion Bill HB 1017) would establish the Family Representation and Advocacy Program, an entity that would be responsible for ensuring parents, legal guardians, and Indian custodians, and children are appointed counsel who have the training, support, and access to resources. The bill passed the Judiciary committee and was referred to Appropriations on February 14. 

Connecticut Senate Bill 1008 would continue the appointment of legal representation for youth involved in extended foster care court proceedings. The Joint Committee on Children heard the bill on February 16. NACC submitted written comments

Georgia House Bill 460 would guarantee the right to counsel to youth receiving extended foster care services.