Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Georgia

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 15-11-103; 15-11-104

A child shall have the right to an attorney at all stages of a dependency proceeding under this article. The court shall appoint an attorney for an alleged dependent child. The appointment shall be made as soon as practicable to ensure adequate representation of the child and, in any event, before the first court hearing that may substantially affect the interests of such child.

If an attorney has been appointed to represent a child in a prior proceeding under this chapter, the court, when possible, shall appoint the same attorney to represent such child in any subsequent proceeding. An attorney appointed to represent a child in a dependency proceeding shall continue the representation in any subsequent appeals, unless excused by the court.

The court shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for an alleged dependent child. An attorney for an alleged dependent child may serve as such child's GAL, unless or until there is conflict of interest between the attorney's duty to the child as the child's attorney and the attorney's considered opinion of the child's best interests as GAL.

A party to the proceeding, the employee or representative of a party to the proceeding, or any other individual with a conflict of interest shall not be appointed as GAL.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 15-11-2(16); 15-11-104; 15-11-106

'Court-appointed special advocate' or 'CASA' means a community volunteer to whom the following applies:

  • Has been screened and trained regarding child abuse and neglect, child development, and juvenile court proceedings
  • Has met all the requirements of an affiliate CASA program
  • Is being actively supervised by an affiliate CASA program
  • Has been sworn in by a judge of the juvenile court in the court or circuit in which he or she wishes to serve

A court shall appoint a CASA to act as GAL whenever possible, and a CASA may be appointed in addition to an attorney who is serving as a GAL. A lay guardian shall not engage in activities that could reasonably be construed as the practice of law.

Before executing duties as a CASA, and upon completion of all the requirements of an affiliate CASA program, a CASA shall be sworn in by a judge of the juvenile court in the court or circuit in which he or she wishes to serve. A CASA shall not be assigned a case prior to being sworn in by a juvenile court judge.

If a juvenile court judge determines that a child involved in a dependency proceeding needs a CASA, the judge shall have the authority to appoint a CASA, and in such circumstance shall sign an order appointing a CASA at the earliest possible stage of the proceedings. Such order shall impose on a CASA all the duties, rights, and responsibilities set forth in this section and §§ 15-11-104 and 15-11-105.

The role of a CASA in juvenile court dependency proceedings shall be to advocate for the best interests of the child.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Code § 15-11-104

Before the appointment as a GAL, a person shall have received training appropriate to the role as GAL that is administered or approved by the Office of the Child Advocate for the Protection of Children. For attorneys, preappointment GAL training shall be satisfied within the attorney's existing continuing legal education obligations and shall not require the attorney to complete additional training hours in addition to the hours required by the State Bar of Georgia.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 15-11-103; 15-11-105

A child's attorney owes to his or her client the duties imposed by the law of this State in an attorney-client relationship.

A GAL shall advocate for a child's best interests in the proceeding for which the GAL has been appointed. In determining a child's best interests, a GAL shall consider and evaluate all the factors affecting the best interests of a child in the context of a child's age and developmental needs. Such factors include the following:

  • The physical safety and welfare of the child
  • The mental and physical health of all individuals involved
  • Evidence of domestic violence in the child's home
  • The child's familial, cultural, and religious background and ties
  • The child's sense of attachments, including his or her sense of security and familiarity
  • The least disruptive placement alternative for the child
  • The child's wishes and long-term goals
  • The child's community ties, including church, school, and friends
  • The child's need for permanence, stability, and continuity of relationships
  • The risks attendant to being in substitute care
  • The preferences of the persons available to care for the child
  • Any other factors considered by the GAL to be relevant to his or her determination

Unless a child's circumstances make the following duties and responsibilities unreasonable, a GAL shall at a minimum:

  • Maintain regular in-person contact with the child and, in a manner appropriate to his or her developmental level, meet with and interview the child prior to all hearings
  • In a manner appropriate to the child's developmental level, ascertain the child's needs, circumstances, and views
  • Conduct an independent assessment to determine the facts and circumstances of the case
  • Consult with the child's attorney, if applicable, regarding the issues in the case
  • Communicate with health-care, mental health-care, and other professionals involved with the child's case
  • Review case study and educational, medical, psychological, and other relevant reports
  • Review all court-related documents
  • Attend all court hearings and other proceedings to advocate for the child's best interests
  • Advocate for timely court hearings to obtain permanency for the child
  • Protect the cultural needs of the child
  • Contact the child prior to and after any change in the child's placement
  • Request and attend a judicial citizen review panel or judicial review of the case
  • Provide written reports to the court on the child's best interests
  • When appropriate, encourage the use of any alternative forms of dispute resolution and participate in such processes to the extent permitted
  • Monitor compliance with the case plan and all court orders

Upon appointment, the GAL shall have access to all records and information relevant to a child's case.

How the Representative Is Compensated

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.