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Law Guardians in New York State - A Study of the Legal Representation of Children

NCJ Number
J Knitzer; M Sobie
Date Published
283 pages
This assessment of the effectiveness of legal representation accorded to children in New York State examines the quality of representation in all proceedings in which representation is either mandated or discretionary, drafts guidelines for the effective representation of children in specific proceedings, and analyzes the extent to which the current fiscal and administrative structure underpinning the Law Guardian Program facilitates or impedes the effective representation of individual children.
In 1962, the New York Legislature provided for the appointiment of a law guardian at the request of a minor or parent in either neglect or delinquency proceedings. In 1970, in part to comply with the Supreme Court decision that juvenile delinquents have certain due process rights, including the right to counsel, the New York legislature made representation mandatory in not only juvenile delinquency proceedings but in proceedings involving abuse and neglect as well as persons in need of supervision. Law guardian representation is provided by panel attorneys in 53 counties in the State. The law guardian study involved a multi-pronged strategy that required the collection of different types of data from a variety of sources, including surveys of law guardians, onsite visits in 14 counties, court observation and an examination of court files, and interviews with children who had been represented by law guardians. The most significant finding was inadequacies in the general level of representation accorded children, regardless of the type of case. The majority of panel law guardians do not view themselves as experts in juvenile law, do not have the opportunity to receive training in this field, and represent relatively few children a year. Legal aid law guardians handle many cases a year but lack support staff and continuity policies. The administrative and fiscal structure of the law guardian program appears to compound many of the identified problems. Recommendations are intended to (1) improve and more effectively monitor the overall quality of representation; (2) strengthen the existing system of panel and legal aid representation; (3) provide a focus for enhanced State leadership of the law guardian program; (4) ensure that certain activities, such as training and appeals, are strengthened in a uniform way; and (5) relieve the burden now placed on both full and part-time law guardians to be informed in the absence of adequate support services and ongoing information about relevent legal or service developments. The appendixes detail the study methodology and instruments. (Author summary modified)