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Representation for Abused and Neglected Children - So What, Unless?

NCJ Number
C L Johnson
Date Published
4 pages
The article examines the roles of the court, the public social agency, and the guardian ad litem in the judicial process concerning abused and neglected children as a basis for arguing that the role of the guardian ad litem should be extended to prejudicial representation.
Through the doctrine of parens patriae, the court assumes the ultimate responsibility for the protection of the child's rights and best interest. The juvenile court assesses the facts presented before it by all parties, acts as arbiter when necessary, and renders a judgment. The public social agency generally has involvement in abuse and neglect cases before the filing of a petition for court action. It also activates the petition in most cases. The agency is strategically and authoritatively involved in several precourt points, such as precourt negotiation activities. The duties and limits of the guardian ad litem depend, in part, on the point at which it is appointed and on the degree of independence attached to the role. The guardian ad litem currently has no role at some of the points that make a difference in substantive issues affecting children. Thus, the guardian ad litem might be considered a legal functionary of the court to ensure that the procedural rights of the child are safeguarded. Only if the guardian ad litem has a role in the precourt stages can it truly begin to represent the child's interests, welfare, and well-being. For representation to be meaningful, it must also be independent. Reference notes are included.