Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Delaware

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 29, § 9007A

In determining whether to represent an abused, neglected, or dependent child, or a child at risk of same, the Office of the Child Advocate may communicate with any child at issue and may have access to all information relating to that child and child's family held or maintained by the Department of Services for Children, Youth and Their Families (DSCYF) or the family court.

When the court determines that a child is in DSCYF custody, the court shall sign an order appointing an attorney to represent the child. If a child is otherwise in need of legal representation in a child welfare proceeding, the office may file a motion with the court requesting appointment, which shall be granted if the court determines it is in the best interests of the child. That order shall impose all the duties, rights, and responsibilities set forth in this section. Upon request from the office or any party, the court also may appoint a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer to work in conjunction with the child's attorney to accomplish the duties set forth in § 9007A(c).

The appointment shall last until the attorney or CASA volunteer is released from responsibility by order of the court or until his or her commitment to the court ends.

Upon appointment of an attorney, the child shall be a party to any child welfare proceeding in which the child is the subject and shall possess all the procedural and substantive rights of a party, including those set forth in title 13, § 732.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 29, § 9010A

The Court-Appointed Special Advocate Program shall provide legal representation to children through the Office of the Child Advocate. Volunteers shall be supervised by coordinators and a program director employed by the office.

The child advocate will establish the number, qualifications, and responsibilities of the coordinators and the program director. Attorneys shall be hired or contracted by the child advocate to provide legal representation to children appointed under this section. Volunteers and coordinators will work in conjunction with the child's attorney to accomplish the duties set forth in § 9007A(c) of this title.

The CASA shall be a party to any child welfare proceeding or any other proceeding in which the court has appointed the CASA..

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 29, §§ 9007A; 9010A

The attorney or CASA volunteer shall be trained by the office or a course approved by the office prior to representing any child before the court. The attorney or CASA volunteer shall be required to participate in ongoing multidisciplinary training regarding child welfare.

The CASA program shall include volunteers who have demonstrated an interest in children and their welfare and have participated in background checks, interviews, and training courses conducted by the office to determine his or her fitness to serve. Volunteers will serve at the pleasure of the child advocate but also may be removed by court order. Volunteers shall participate in ongoing training as determined by the office. Volunteers will be sworn in by the court upon completion of all requirements and shall not serve as a volunteer prior to being sworn.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 29, § 9007A

Upon entry of the order, the attorney and CASA volunteer, if one is appointed, shall have the authority to review all documents and interview all pertinent persons having significant information relating to the child and the child's life circumstances.

The attorney's duty is to the child. The scope of the representation of the child is the child's best interests. The attorney and the CASA volunteer, in addition to other office employees, contractors, and volunteers, shall have the duty of confidentiality to the child, unless disclosure is necessary to protect the child. As such, the attorney or CASA volunteer shall do the following:

  • Represent the best interests of the child in all child welfare proceedings and explain to the child, taking into account the child's ability to understand the proceedings, the duties of the attorney, the role of the CASA volunteer, and the rights of the child set forth in title 13, § 2522 if the child is in DSCYF custody
  • Conduct an independent investigation of the circumstances of a case of appointment, including, but not be limited to, interviews and/or observations of the child and relevant individuals as well as a review of all relevant records and reports
  • Present evidence to the court in support of his or her position
  • Be provided with notice of every court proceeding and receive copies of every pleading
  • Participate in all depositions, negotiations, discovery, pretrial conferences, hearings, and appeals
  • Have access to all records regarding the child and his or her family maintained by DSCYF
  • Monitor cases to which he or she is appointed to assure that the terms of the court's orders are fulfilled and permanency for the child is achieved through reunification, adoption, permanent guardianship, guardianship, placement with a fit and willing relative, or, alternatively, by another planned permanent living arrangement so long as the child is at least age 16
  • Receive reasonable notice from the DSCYF Division of Family Services of changes in placement, school, or any other change of circumstances affecting the child
  • Receive reasonable notice from the division of any founded complaint involving the following:
    • The child, when the child is the alleged victim
    • The residence in which the child lives
    • The home-based daycare that the child attends
  • Request a hearing before the court when the plan on behalf of the child is not implemented, is not meeting the child's needs, or upon completion of a division investigation
  • Request any appropriate relief from the court on behalf of the child
  • Appear, when appropriate, on behalf of a child before the Violent Crimes Compensation Board, to pursue a claim on behalf of the child, as set forth in title 11, chapter 90
  • Ascertain the wishes of the child, give appropriate weight to the child's wishes understanding his or her age and emotional development, and make the child's wishes known to the court

If the attorney concludes that the child's wishes conflict with his or her position or the position of the CASA volunteer, if one is appointed, he or she will make the child's wishes known to the court and notify the court of the conflict so the court can determine if a conflict exists. If the court determines a conflict exists, the court shall determine how to remedy the conflict such that the child's best interests and wishes are represented.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Code Tit. 29, § 9007A

The attorney or CASA volunteer shall be employed, contracted, or an approved volunteer with the office and shall be appointed by the court.