Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Mississippi

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Code § 43-21-121

The youth court shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the child as follows:

  • When a child has no parent, guardian, or custodian
  • When the youth court cannot acquire personal jurisdiction over a parent, guardian, or custodian
  • When the parent is a minor or a person of unsound mind
  • When the parent is indifferent to the interests of the child or if the interests of the child and the parent, considered in the context of the case, appear to conflict
  • In every case involving an abused or neglected child that results in a judicial proceeding
  • In any other instance where the youth court finds appointment of a GAL to be in the best interests of the child

The GAL shall be appointed by the court when custody is ordered or at the first judicial hearing regarding the case, whichever occurs first.

The court, including a county court serving as a youth court, may appoint either a suitable attorney or a suitable layman as GAL. In cases where the court appoints a layman as GAL, the court also shall appoint an attorney to represent the child.

If the party is a child, the child shall be represented by counsel at all critical stages: detention, adjudicatory, and disposition hearings; and postdisposition matters. If indigent, the child shall have the right to have counsel appointed for him or her by the youth court.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Code § 43-21-121(7)

The court, in its sound discretion, may appoint a volunteer, trained layperson to assist children subject to the provisions of this section in addition to the appointment of a GAL. If the court utilizes his or her discretion, a volunteer court-appointed special advocate (CASA) shall be appointed from a program that supervises the volunteer and meets all State and national CASA standards to advocate for the best interests of children in abuse and neglect proceedings. To accomplish the assignment of a CASA volunteer, the court shall issue an order of assignment that shall grant the CASA volunteer the authority, equal to that of the GAL, to review all relevant documents and to interview all parties and witnesses involved in the proceeding in which he or she is appointed. Except as otherwise ordered by the court, the assignment of a CASA volunteer for a child shall include subsequent proceedings through permanent placement of the child.

Before assigning a CASA volunteer, the youth court judge shall determine if the volunteer has sufficient qualifications, training, and ability to serve as a CASA volunteer, including his or her ability to represent and advocate for the best interests of children assigned to him or her. No volunteer shall be assigned until a comprehensive criminal background check has been conducted.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Code § 43-21-121

The GAL shall be a competent person who has no adverse interests to the child. The court shall ensure that the GAL is adequately instructed on the proper performance of his or her duties.

The court may appoint either a suitable attorney or a suitable layperson as a GAL. From and after January 1, 1999, in order to be eligible for an appointment as a GAL, such attorney or layperson must have received child protection and juvenile justice training provided by or approved by the Mississippi Judicial College within the year immediately preceding such appointment. The Mississippi Judicial College shall determine the amount of child protection and juvenile justice training that shall satisfy the requirements of this section. The Administrative Office of Courts shall maintain a roll of all attorneys and laypersons eligible to be appointed as a GAL.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Code § 43-21-121

In addition to all other duties required by law, a GAL shall have the duty to protect the interests of a child for whom he or she has been appointed GAL. The GAL shall investigate, make recommendations to the court, or enter reports as necessary to hold paramount the child's best interests. The GAL is not an adversary party, and the court shall ensure that GALs perform their duties properly and in the best interests of their wards.

Upon appointment of a GAL, the youth court shall continue any pending proceedings for a reasonable time to allow the GAL to familiarize himself or herself with the matter, consult with counsel, and prepare his or her participation in the case. The youth court shall issue an order of assignment that grants the GAL authority to review all relevant documents concerning the minor child and to interview all parties and witnesses involved in proceedings concerning the minor child for whom the GAL is appointed.

All CASA volunteers shall do the following:

  • Be sworn in by a judge of the court
  • Swear or affirm to abide by all laws, regulations, and orders of the court
  • Swear or affirm to advocate what he or she perceives to be in the best interests of the child for whom he or she is assigned in all matters pending before the court
  • Provide independent, factual information to the court regarding the children and cases to which they are assigned
  • Advocate on behalf of the children involved in the cases to which they are assigned what they perceive to be in the best interests of the children
  • Monitor proceedings in cases to which they have been assigned and advise and assist the court in its determination of the best interests of the children involved

The following provisions apply to any case to which a CASA volunteer has been assigned:

  • The CASA volunteer shall be notified by the court of all court proceedings and hearings of any kind pertaining to the child.
  • The CASA volunteer shall be notified by the Department of Child Protection Services of all administrative review hearings.
  • The CASA volunteer shall be entitled to attend all court proceedings and hearings of any kind pertaining to the child.
  • The CASA volunteer may be called as a witness in the proceedings by any party or by the court and may request of the court the opportunity to appear as a witness.
  • The CASA volunteer shall be given access to all portions of the court record relating to proceedings pertaining to the child and the child's family.

Upon application to the court and notice to all parties, the court shall grant the CASA volunteer access to other information, including department records, relating to the child and the child's family and to other matters involved in the proceeding in which he or she is appointed. All records and information requested or reviewed by the CASA volunteer in the course of his or her assignment shall be deemed confidential and shall not be disclosed by him or her except pursuant to court order.

The child's attorney shall owe the same duties of undivided loyalty, confidentiality, and competent representation to the child or minor as is due an adult client pursuant to the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Code § 43-21-121

Upon order of the youth court, the GAL shall be paid a reasonable fee as determined by the youth court judge or referee out of the county general fund. To be eligible for this fee, the GAL shall submit an accounting of the time spent in performance of his or her duties to the court.