Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Arkansas

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Code § 9-27-316(f)

The court shall appoint an attorney ad litem when a dependency-neglect petition is filed or when an emergency ex parte order is entered in a dependency-neglect case, whichever occurs earlier.

The court may appoint an attorney ad litem to represent the best interests of a child involved in any case before the court and shall consider the child's best interests in determining whether to appoint an attorney ad litem.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Code § 9-27-316(g)

The court may appoint a volunteer court-appointed special advocate (CASA) from a program that shall meet all State and national CASA standards to advocate for the best interests of juveniles in dependency-neglect proceedings. No CASA shall be assigned a case before:

  • Completing a training program in compliance with National Court-Appointed Special Advocate Association and State standards
  • Being approved by the local CASA program, including appropriate criminal background and child abuse registry checks

Each CASA shall do the following:

  • Investigate the case to which he or she is assigned to provide independent factual information to the court through the attorney ad litem, court testimony, or court reports
  • Monitor the case to which he or she is assigned to ensure compliance with the court's orders

The CASA may testify if called as a witness. When the CASA prepares a written report for the court, the advocate shall provide all parties or the attorney of record with a copy of the written report 7 business days before the relevant hearing.

Upon presentation of an order of appointment, a CASA shall be provided access to all records relevant to the child's case, including, but not limited to, school records; medical records; all court records relating to the child and his or her family; and department records, including those maintained electronically and in the Children's Reporting and Information System, to the extent permitted by Federal law.

A CASA is not a party to the case to which he or she is assigned and shall not call witnesses or examine witnesses.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 9-27-401(b)(4); 9-27-316(f)(1); AR Sup. Ct. Adm. Order No. 15.1, § 1

The supreme court shall adopt standards of practice and qualifications for service for all attorneys who seek employment or contracts to provide legal representation to children in dependency-neglect cases.

The court shall appoint an attorney ad litem who shall meet standards and qualifications established by the supreme court to represent the best interests of the juvenile when a dependency-neglect petition is filed or when an emergency ex parte order is entered in a dependency-neglect case, whichever occurs earlier.

In court rules: An attorney shall be licensed and in good standing with the Arkansas Supreme Court. Prior to appointment, an attorney ad litem shall have an initial education that includes approved instruction of at least 10 hours in the 2 years prior to the date an attorney qualifies as a court-appointed attorney for children in dependency-neglect cases. Initial training must include the following:

  • Child development
  • Dynamics of abuse and neglect
  • Attorney roles and responsibilities, including ethical considerations
  • Relevant State law, Federal law, case law, and rules
  • Family dynamics, including, but not limited to, substance abuse, domestic violence, and mental health issues
  • Division of Children and Family Services policies and procedures
  • Additional initial legal education that may include, but is not limited to, the following:
    • Grief and attachment
    • Custody and visitation
    • Resources and services
    • Trial and appellate advocacy

The Administrative Office of the Courts (AOC) shall design and conduct programs for the initial 10 hours of legal education, either alone or in collaboration with other agencies or entities.

Following completion of the initial 10 hours of legal education, continuing legal education shall include at least 4 hours per year related to representation in dependency-neglect cases that may include, but is not limited to, the subject categories listed above.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Code § 9-27-316(f); AR Sup. Ct. Adm. Order No. 15.1, § 2

An attorney ad litem shall do the following:

  • File written motions, responses, or objections at all stages of the proceedings when necessary to protect the best interests of the child
  • Attend all hearings and participate in all telephone conferences with the court unless excused by the court
  • Present witnesses and exhibits when necessary to protect the child's best interests

An attorney ad litem shall be provided access to all records relevant to the child's case, including, but not limited to, school records; medical records; all court records relating to the child and his or her family; and records of the Department of Human Services, including those maintained electronically and in the Children's Reporting and Information System, to the extent permitted by Federal law.

An attorney ad litem shall represent the best interests of the child. If the child's wishes differ from the attorney's determination of the child's best interests, the attorney ad litem shall communicate the child's wishes to the court in addition to presenting his or her determination of the child's best interests.

In court rules: An attorney ad litem shall determine the best interests of a child by considering such factors as the child's age and sense of time; level of maturity; culture and ethnicity; degree of attachment to family members, including siblings; as well as continuity, consistency, and the child's sense of belonging and identity.

An attorney ad litem shall personally or in conjunction with a trained CASA volunteer conduct an independent investigation consisting of review of all relevant documents and records, including, but not limited to, police reports, DCFS records, medical records, school records, and court records. The ad litem shall interview the child and, in conjunction with a trained CASA volunteer when one has been appointed, shall interview the parents, foster parents, caseworker, service providers, school personnel, and others having relevant knowledge to assist in representation. Continuing investigation and regular contact with the child are mandatory.

An attorney ad litem shall do the following:

  • Make earnest efforts to attend all case staffings and court-ordered mediation conferences and shall communicate directly with his or her client and/or his or her client's caregiver prior to the date of each hearing
  • Appear at all hearings to represent the best interests of the child and present all relevant facts to the court and, if the child's wishes differ from the attorney's determination of the child's best interests, communicate the child's wishes to the court
  • Explain the court proceedings and the role of the ad litem in terms that the child can understand
  • Advocate for specific and appropriate services for the child and the child's family
  • Monitor implementation of case plans and court orders
  • File appropriate pleadings on behalf of the child
  • Review the progress of the child's case and advocate for timely hearings
  • Request orders that are clear; specific; and, where appropriate, include a timeline for assessment, services, placement, treatment, and evaluation of the child and the child's family

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Code § 9-27-401

The director of the AOC is authorized to employ or enter into professional service contracts with private individuals or businesses or public agencies to represent all children in dependency-neglect proceedings. Before employing or entering into a contract or contracts, the office shall consult with the judges of the circuit court designated to hear dependency-neglect cases.

Those obtaining employment or contracts through the office will be designated as the providers for representation of children in dependency-neglect cases in each judicial district.

The distribution of funds among the judicial districts shall be based on a formula developed by the office and approved by the Juvenile Judges Committee of the Arkansas Judicial Council. In the transition to a State-funded system of dependency-neglect representation, it is the intent of the general assembly to provide an appropriate and adequate level of representation to all children in dependency-neglect proceedings as required under Federal and State law.