[Infographic] The Right to Counsel for Children in Dependency Cases

The Right to Counsel for Children


Central to NACC’s mission is the idea that the law must be used to protect and serve vulnerable children and their families, and that providing expert, effective legal counsel is necessary to deliver justice to our often deeply disadvantaged clients. How can we make the argument for a right to counsel? Can the existing case law support our cause?

Communications technology is rapidly evolving, and NACC is happy to share today an “infographic” – information presented in a creative, graphic form – to help you make the argument. “The Right to Counsel in Dependency Cases” infographic is derived from the skilled and articulate advocacy on this issue by many of our most respected colleagues. We hope that this can become a useful tool for you in your own advocacy, both within and outside the courtroom.

9/10/2015 UPDATE:

Thanks to helpful feedback from John Pollock of the National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel, we have updated this infographic to reflect recent legislation and changed some of our language to be more precise. Theses changes are reflected in the infographic and in citations 10 and 12.

The Right to Counsel for Children in Dependency Cases

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Note: The views and opinions expressed in this blog post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NACC.

About Kendall Marlowe

Kendall is the Executive Director of the National Association of Counsel for Children, the national advocacy organization of attorneys and other professionals representing children and families in child welfare, juvenile justice and custody cases. Kendall served as Chief of the Bureau of Operations and as Deputy Director for the Department of Children and Family Services in Illinois, where he was also spokesperson for the Department of Juvenile Justice and the Governor’s Long Term Care Reform Task Force. Kendall grew up in a family that welcomed six adolescent foster youth, has been a foster and adoptive parent himself, and worked as a social worker with at-risk, homeless and foster youth on Chicago’s south side. He holds a Master’s in Social Work from the University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration, where he received the Wilma Walker Honor Award; and a J.D. and Certificate in Child and Family Law from the Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where he was an Honorary Child Law Fellow.

  1. Thank you for this infographic. So interesting and so important, however; the graphic is either internally inconsistent or the State’s gradecard section reflects a bias. In one section the states are shown regarding the right to appointment of counsel for parents in a termination of parental rights proceeding; i.e. no absolute right to counsel in the State of Mississippi. In another section the various states are graded but Mississippi is shaded in blue; i.e. Mississippi receives an ‘A’ while New Hampshire receives an F. In what universe does that make sense? I don’t have anything against Mississippi, by the way, but I don’t know what Miss. could possibly be doing soooo correctly which would outweigh denying a parent’s right to counsel?
    I don’t have anything against New Hampshire either. A grade of F is appropriate though where they’ve denied the right to counsel (NACC valiantly and courageously fought that fight a few years back in NH).
    Whether one state gets an ‘A’ or a ‘B’ is probably a pretty subjective judgment call. In Tennessee, we have a statutorily mandated requirement for a Guardian Ad Litem in contested termination cases and in all dependency and neglect cases. Parents’ right to counsel is sacrosanct in both of these types of cases as well.
    So Mississippi gets an ‘A’ becuase they seem to have tipped the scale for children to the (complete) detriment of parents (here’s where I think the bias comes in). Is that really an ‘A’ or just a ‘D’ which is dressed up to look like an ‘A?’ This is similar to the disparity in pay between Federal prosecutors and defense counsel (and also in many states such as my own). Is it “better” in Mississippi? One side certainly has more protections. The folks who prepared the gradecard certainly think so, but is it fair? And if it’s unfair, isn’t that worse for the children? How does injustice promote children’s rights?
    Satisfied with a ‘B,’
    Dan in Tennessee

  2. Hi Dan in Tennessee – Thanks so much for your comments – you bring up some really good points. One thing I did want to clarify regarding the “grading of the states” is that the grade is solely based on issues relating to a child’s right to legal representation. That is why you see some disparity between a state’s score from the First Star report and how they treat a parent’s right to counsel. Perhaps someone will take on the challenge of grading the states by using both children’s and parent’s right to counsel for the grading criteria. I believe (as it appears you do as well) that in order to really gauge how a state is doing, we need to be paying attention to both a child’s right to counsel and a parent’s right to counsel equally. And I agree with you that the stronger parent representation we have, the better it will be ultimately for children. As a former County Attorney representing the Department, I can attest to the fact that, in my experience, children had better overall outcomes when there was a strong parent attorney in the case. But, grading the states by including parent representation is beyond the scope of the First Star report. As an aside, NACC is committed to advocating for both a child’s right to counsel and a parent’s right to counsel, and to supporting local jurisdictions in that effort. To the extent that you are interested in getting involved in that endeavor, please email me. Thanks again, Brooke

  3. I’m from Mississippi. I believe the A is undeserved. In many cases, youth courts have lay gal’s with no legal training representing children. I have yet to see one actually do anything in court to represent a child. I have won 2 appeals where children’s rights were not given. One case involved changing custody (a good thing) when a child was 8 months old using the “child in need of supervision” section, which requires a child to be 10 months old. in the end that child did not get justice and was removed from the state by the unfit mother and contact was lost. in the other, the attorney for the child told the court (after spending at the most 5 minutes with the child) that there were some problems, and that if he were found in need of supervision he might get the services he needed (which should have been addressed in his IEP.) We need a complete change in our entire system.

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