The number of states that fail to legally support children in child welfare cases has significantly declined in the past decade. These are the findings of the fourth iteration of A Child’s Right to Counsel, the periodic national report card on counsel for children published in partnership with the First Star Institute and the Children’s Advocacy Institute. The two producers of the report, along with other legal advocates for youth in care, have called for a federal requirement of legal counsel for all children as part of the current reauthorization of the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA). Currently, CAPTA only requires that someone represent a child in court; it doesn’t have to be a lawyer.
The report sets grades for each state using a slate of six criteria:
- Does state law mandate lawyers be appointed to children in dependency cases?
- For how much of their dependency case is an attorney guaranteed to a child?
- For older children, is the counsel “client-directed,” meaning they advocate for what the child wants instead of making only “best interest” arguments?
- How much specialized education is required for child counsel?
- Does state law give the child the legal status of being a party to their case?
- Do attorneys for children have to follow the state’s liability and confidentiality laws?
See more on how Texas and other states performed in the most recent report.