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

NCJ Number
Susan Snyder
Date Published
December 2000
13 pages
This executive summary presents the results and recommendations of a 1998 survey conducted by the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) examining attorneys’ adherence in representing children at the many stages of a dependency proceeding in Pennsylvania under the Juvenile Act utilizing the ABA Standards of Practice and Act 18 of 2000-Guardian Ad Litem Responsibilities.
In order to gain an understanding of how the 1972 Juvenile Act’s requirement was being met and practiced in dependency courtrooms in the State of Pennsylvania, the Juvenile Law Center (JLC) initiated a statewide survey of lawyers representing dependent children. The objective was to raise the quality of services and representation received by dependent children from lawyers. To measure Pennsylvania’s dependency court practice, JLC used both the American Bar Association Standards of Practice for Lawyers and the new Juvenile Act requirements under Act 18 of 2000 requiring guardians ad litem in dependency proceedings. This report presents a summary of survey results and recommendations. The report consists of answering four questions: (1) why do lawyers for children matter; (2) what makes a lawyer a good lawyer for a child; (3) what is the quality of counsel for children in Pennsylvania; and (4) what steps can be taken to improve lawyering for children in dependency proceedings? Originally distributed to 400 attorneys across the State, 104 attorneys completed the survey. In addition, JLC observed dependency proceedings and interviewed lawyers, judges, and child welfare administrators in 16 counties across the State. Major survey findings included: (1) a substantial number of attorneys did not meet their clients prior to scheduled hearings or other proceedings; (2) lawyers were not adequately investigating their child-clients’ cases; (3) attorneys were not participating fully in all aspects of dependency proceedings; (4) lawyers’ roles were not clearly delineated or understood; (5) too many attorneys who represented children were untrained; (6) caseload sizes ranged widely; and (7) compensation rates varied widely. In order to promote a consistently higher-quality of representation for children, seven recommendations are presented ranging from an adherence by all pertinent parties to the requirements of Act 18 and the American Bar Association Standards of Practice to the courts application for funding to improve representation for children under the Strengthening Abuse and Neglect Courts Act of 2000.