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Promises Kept, Promises Broken: An Analysis of Children's Right to Counsel in Dependency Proceedings in Pennsylvania

NCJ Number
Susan A. Snyder
Date Published
45 pages
This study assessed the quality of legal representation for children in dependency cases in Pennsylvania as measured by relevant ABA (American Bar Association) Standards and Pennsylvania's new Act 18 guideines, which require that courts appoint guardians ad litem (GALs) for children in certain categories of dependency proceedings and impose practice requirements for GALs.
Findings on the quality of counsel for children in dependency cases show that a substantial number of attorneys do not meet their clients prior to scheduled hearings or other proceedings; attorneys are not adequately investigating their child-clients' cases; attorneys are not fully participating in all aspects of dependency proceedings; attorneys' roles are not clearly specified or understood; many attorneys who represent children are untrained in such representation; caseload size ranges widely; and compensation rates for attorneys vary widely. This report recommends that attorneys, judges, and agencies adhere to the requirements of Act 18 and the ABA Standards of practice. It also recommends that attorneys attend specialized training courses; that caseload size be capped; that compensation be increased to reflect the quality of practice required; that attorneys be appointed as soon as possible in the dependency case processing; that judges have high expectations of the attorneys who appear before them on behalf of children; and that courts apply for funding to improve legal representation for children under the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act of 2000. These findings and recommendations are based on a survey of approximately 400 attorneys across Pennsylvania who were identified through court administrators' offices as the attorneys in their counties who represented children in dependency proceedings. A total of 104 attorneys provided completed surveys, representing 42 of Pennsylvania's 67 counties.