Court-appointed legal representation is mandated by law in Texas for all children in the temporary managing conservatorship (TMC) of the Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) and for their parents, if indigent. In May 2021, the Supreme Court of Texas Children’s Commission released the Task Force on Court-Appointed Legal Representation Final Report that analyzes aspects of representation in need of improvement and recommends strategies to raise the quality of court-appointed legal representation in child welfare cases in Texas.
The system of providing court-appointed legal representation in Texas is county-based, county-funded, and typically consists of attorneys appointed from a list of approved private attorneys overseen and approved by a judge. Qualifications, compensation, and available resources for these court-appointed attorneys vary from county to county. Texas does not have standards of representation for court-appointed attorneys in child welfare cases and oversight of attorney performance varies by jurisdiction.
The report identifies elements of quality representation that should be addressed by Texas-specific standards of representation, defining both the breadth and depth of knowledge required for attorneys as well as identifying best practices. After exploring differing models of quality representation currently in use across the United States, the report concludes that a “one size fits all” model is not the right approach for Texas.
The report recommends that Texas begin developing and implementing pilot programs that can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of different models of representation. While pilots are developed, the Task Force recommends that Texas adopt policy and statutory modifications that can have a more immediate impact, such as utilizing federal Title IV-E funds to spur innovation.