Attorneys charged with the duty of representing foster children in the dependency legal system have a tremendous responsibility. It is important for all child advocates to be familiar with Welfare and Institutions Code Section 317(e), and the state and county rules of court which set out the specific duties and obligations of minor’s counsel.
CALIFORNIA WELFARE AND INSTITUTIONS CODE § 317(e):
- Counsel shall be charged in general with the representation of the child’s interests. To that end, the counsel shall make or cause to have made any further investigations that he or she deems in good faith to be reasonably necessary to ascertain the facts, including the interviewing of witnesses, and he or she shall examine and cross-examine witnesses in both the adjudicatory and dispositional hearings.
- He or she may also introduce and examine his or her own witnesses, make recommendations to the court concerning the child’s welfare, and participate further in the proceedings to the degree necessary to adequately represent the child.
- In any case in which the child is four years of age or older, counsel shall interview the child to determine the child’s wishes and to assess the child’s well-being, and shall advise the court of the child’s wishes.
- Counsel for the child shall not advocate for the return of the child if, to the best of his or her knowledge, that return conflicts with the protection and safety of the child. In addition counsel shall investigate the interests of the child beyond the scope of the juvenile proceeding and report to the court other interests of the child that may need to be protected by the institution of other administrative or judicial proceedings.
- The attorney representing a child in a dependency proceeding is not required to assume the responsibilities of a social worker and is not expected to provide nonlegal services to the child. The court shall take whatever appropriate action is necessary to fully protect the interests of the child.
Attorneys representing children in dependency court are also held to “minimum standards of representation” under California Rules of Court Section 5.660.
Some counties also have “Local Rules of Court” requiring more specified duties of minor’s counsel beyond the requirements or standards of representation required by Welfare and Institutions Code § 317(e), above, and California Rule of Court § 5.660. Local Rules of Court, by County (pdf)
California Rule of Court 5.660 also requires a process for the review and resolution of complaints or questions by a party regarding the performance of an appointed attorney
In some California counties, a complaint concerning the performance of an attorney appointed to represent a minor may be lodged on the child’s behalf by a caretaker, relative, or a foster parent. See Local Rules of Court, by County to find the rules in your county regarding complaint procedures.
If you are a relative caretaker or foster parent in one of the counties which allow “non-parties” to lodge a complaint and you would like to contact the presiding judge of your juvenile court to report a problem with the attorney representing the child in your care, download and fill out the Request for Assistance with Court Appointed Attorney form and send it to the juvenile court presiding judge in your county.
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