Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Connecticut

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 46b-129a

In proceedings in the superior court for a neglected, uncared for, or dependent child under § 46b-129, the child shall be represented by counsel knowledgeable about representing such children who shall be assigned to represent the child by the office of chief public defender or appointed by the court if there is an immediate need for the appointment of counsel during a court proceeding. If the child's parent or guardian has been accused by a competent witness of abusing the child, or of causing the child to be neglected or uncared for, upon the assignment or appointment of counsel, such counsel shall be granted immediate access to (i) records relating to the child, including, but not limited to, Department of Social Services records and medical, mental health, substance abuse treatment, law enforcement, and educational records, without the necessity of securing further releases, and (ii) the child, for the purpose of consulting with the child privately. The court shall give the parties prior notice of such assignment or appointment. Counsel for the child shall act solely as attorney for the child.

If a child requiring assignment of counsel in a dependency proceeding is represented by an attorney for a minor child in an ongoing probate or family-matter proceeding, the court may appoint the attorney to represent the child in the dependency proceeding provided that the counsel is knowledgeable about representing such children, and the court notifies the Office of Chief Public Defender of the appointment. Any child who is subject to an ongoing probate or family-matter proceeding who has been appointed a guardian ad litem (GAL) in such proceeding shall be assigned a separate GAL in a dependency proceeding if it is deemed necessary.

A court, on its own motion or upon a motion of a party, may appoint a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) in any proceeding in which a petition is filed under § 46b-129 or 46b-149.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 46b-129c

For the purposes of this section, the term 'court-appointed special advocate' (CASA) means a volunteer who is recruited, screened, trained, and supervised by a local CASA program that is affiliated with the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association.

The Judicial Department shall establish, within available resources, a CASA program. Under the program, a CASA may serve as a resource to the superior court for juvenile matters in determining and furthering the best interests of a person younger than age 18 who is the subject of a petition filed under § 46b-129 or 46b-149. The program shall be administered by the chief court administrator within the superior court for juvenile matters.

Prior to accepting any person who seeks to serve as a CASA, the National Court Appointed Special Advocates Association or a CASA program located in this State and affiliated with said association shall require that such person submit to a State and national criminal history records check and a check of the State child abuse and neglect registry. Any person who refuses to consent or cooperate in processing of such checks shall not be accepted into the CASA program.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 51-296

The Division of Public Defender Services shall provide legal services and GALs to children, youth, and indigent respondents as follows:

  • In family relations matters in which the State has been ordered to pay the cost of such legal services
  • In proceedings before the superior court for juvenile matters

To carry out these requirements, the office of chief public defender may contract with the following:

  • Appropriate not-for-profit legal services agencies
  • Individual lawyers or law firms for the delivery of legal services to represent children
  • Mental health professionals as GALs in family relations matters

Any contract entered into pursuant to this subsection may include terms encouraging or requiring the use of a multidisciplinary agency model of legal representation.

The division shall establish a system to ensure that attorneys providing legal services are assigned to cases in a manner that will avoid conflicts of interest, as defined by the Rules of Professional Conduct.

The division shall establish training, practice, and caseload standards for the representation of children. The standards shall apply to each attorney who represents children and shall be designed to ensure high-quality legal representation. The training standards for attorneys required by this subdivision shall be designed to ensure proficiency in the procedural and substantive law related to such matters and to establish a minimum level of proficiency in relevant subject areas including, but not limited to, family violence, child development, behavioral health, educational disabilities, and cultural competence.

Specific Duties

Citation: Gen. Stat. § 46b-129a

The primary role of any counsel for the child shall be to advocate for the child in accordance with the Rules of Professional Conduct, except that if the child is incapable of expressing the child's wishes to the child's counsel because of age or other incapacity, the counsel for the child shall advocate for the best interests of the child.

If the court, based on evidence before it, or counsel for the child, determines that the child cannot act adequately in his or her own best interests, and the child's wishes, as determined by counsel, if followed, could lead to substantial physical, financial, or other harm to the child unless protective action is taken, counsel may request and the court may order that a separate GAL be assigned for the child. In that case, the court shall either appoint a GAL to serve on a voluntary basis or notify the office of chief public defender who shall assign a separate GAL for the child. The GAL shall conduct an independent investigation of the case and may present information that is pertinent to the court's determination of the best interests of the child at any hearing. The GAL shall be subject to cross-examination upon the request of opposing counsel.

The GAL is not required to be an attorney-at-law, but shall be knowledgeable about the needs and protection of children and relevant court procedures. If a separate GAL is assigned, the person previously serving as counsel for the child shall continue to serve as counsel for the child and a different person shall be assigned as GAL, unless the court, for good cause shown, also determines that a different person should serve as counsel for the child, in which case the court shall notify the office of chief public defender who shall assign a different person as counsel for the child. No person who has served as both counsel and GAL for a child shall thereafter serve solely as the child's GAL.

The CASA may conduct an independent investigation of the facts associated with the filing of the petition and shall undertake and facilitate activities in furtherance of the child's best interests, including, but not limited to, making recommendations to the court. Upon appointment by the court and after obtaining any required releases to access records, a CASA shall have access to any party to such proceeding and all information or records relevant to the child's best interests, including, but not limited to, school records, child care records, medical records, mental health records, court records, and records maintained by the Department of Children and Families. Nothing in this section shall permit a CASA to supplant or interfere with any counsel or GAL appointed to represent the best interests of a child in such proceeding. Notwithstanding the provisions of this subsection, a CASA may, in appropriate cases as determined by the court, undertake activities in furtherance of the child€™s best interests, until the child who is the subject of a petition filed under § 46b-129 or 46b-149 reaches age 21.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Gen. Stat. §§ 46b-129a; 51-291

The counsel and GAL's fees, if any, shall be paid by the Office of Chief Public Defender, unless the parents, guardian, or the estate of the child are able to pay, in which case the court shall assess the rate the parent or guardian is able to pay, and the office may seek reimbursement for the costs of representation from the parents, guardian, or estate of the child.

The chief public defender shall do the following:

  • Maintain one or more lists of trial lawyers who may be available to represent parents or guardians and children in child protection and family relations matters, from which lawyers shall be selected by a judge of the court before which the matter is to be heard
  • Establish compensation for lawyers assigned to these cases for their services, to be paid from the budget of the Public Defender Services Commission

No fees shall be charged for the services provided by a CASA.