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

NCJ Number
Susan A. Snyder
Date Published
December 2000
57 pages
This study examined the quality of legal representation in Pennsylvania afforded to children involved in dependency proceedings under the 1972 Juvenile Act establishing that children have a constitutional right to counsel in child protection proceedings.
In Pennsylvania, the 1972 Juvenile Act guarantees that all children involved in dependency proceedings be afforded legal representation at all stages of the proceedings. However, today there are many children in Pennsylvania who are denied this legal representation. This study’s intent was to examine whether the right to legal representation has been effectively and uniformly implemented throughout the State. In 1998, the Juvenile Law Center initiated the first statewide survey of lawyers representing the tens of thousands of children involved in dependency cases annually in Pennsylvania. The report assesses the quality of legal representation for children in dependency cases across the State utilizing the American Bar Association (ABA) Standards of Practice and the newly enacted Act 18 guidelines (guardian ad litem) as a benchmark and presents recommendations for improving the quality of representation afforded to children in dependency proceedings. The report is divided into four parts: (1) exploring the importance of lawyers for children in dependency proceedings; (2) examining Pennsylvania’s Juvenile Act, the ABA Standards of Practice, and the Act 18 guidelines; (3) a presentation of highlights of the survey data collected from attorneys from around the State; and (4) recommendations for the improvement of legal representation for children involved in dependency proceedings. Approximately 400 surveys were distributed to attorneys across the State representing children involved in dependency proceedings with 104 attorneys responding with completed surveys. The issues covered in the survey ranged from caseload size and its impact on effective representation to the role of the child’s attorney in these proceedings. Several findings are presented and include: (1) a significant number of attorneys did not meet their clients prior to scheduled hearings or other proceedings; (2) lawyers were not adequately investigating their clients’ cases; (3) attorneys were not participating fully in all aspects of the proceedings; (4) lawyers’ roles were not clearly defined; (5) too many attorneys representing children were untrained; (6) caseload size ranged widely; and (7) compensation rates varied widely. Recommendations for change and improvement ranged from attorneys adhering to the requirements of Act 18 and the ABA Standards of Practice to the application for funding by the courts to improve the legal representation for children. Graphs