Measuring the Impact of Children’s Rights to Counsel_Page_01The well-being of children that come into contact with the child welfare system often hinges on juvenile court decisions where critical decisions about that child’s life are made. Issues such as where they will live, frequency of visits with their siblings, what activities they can participate in and their permanency goals are debated by social workers, parents, attorneys and judges. However, the voice of the child is an important component that is often left unconsidered during legal proceedings. One way to improve court performance and outcomes for children in care is by providing children in juvenile court with their own attorneys to represent their interests. In 2011, the American Bar Association adopted the Model Act for Children in Abuse, Neglect and Dependency proceedings, which calls for states to establish a child’s right to client-directed counsel for all dependency and termination of parental rights proceedings. Yet, currently 29 states do not provide attorneys to children at all in maltreatment proceedings and for those that do, guidelines and prevailing practices of very greatly.

This brief describes the potential outcomes for children and juvenile court systems by guaranteeing client-directed counsel for all children in dependency and termination of parental rights proceedings, as well as the challenges jurisdictions face in seeking to measure the impact of such representation. In addition, it includes recommendations to improve policy and practice on both the national and state level.