Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Missouri

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 210.160; Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 129.04, Appx. C, Std. 1.0

In every case involving an abused or neglected child that results in a judicial proceeding, the judge shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to appear for and represent the following:

  • A child who is the subject of the proceedings
  • A parent who is a minor or who is a mentally ill person or otherwise incompetent and whose child is the subject of the proceedings

The appointing judge shall require the GAL to faithfully discharge his or her duties, and should the GAL fail to do so, the court shall discharge the GAL and appoint another.

The judge, in making appointments pursuant to this section, shall give preference to persons who served as GAL for the child in an earlier proceeding, unless there is a reason on the record for not giving such preference.

In court rules: When appointing a GAL for a child, the court shall only appoint a lawyer licensed by the supreme court who has completed the training required by these standards. Lawyers appointed to act as GAL shall act in accordance with the rules of professional conduct.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 210.160; Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 129.04, Appx. C, Std. 1.0

The court may designate volunteer advocates, who may or may not be attorneys licensed to practice law, to assist in the performance of the GAL duties for the court. Nonattorney volunteer advocates shall not provide legal representation. The court shall have the authority to examine the general and criminal background of persons designated as volunteer advocates, including utilization of the family care safety registry, to ensure the safety and welfare of the children such persons are designated to represent. The volunteer advocate shall be provided with all reports relevant to the case made to or by any agency or person; shall have access to all records of such agencies or persons relating to the child or such child's family members or placements of the child; and, upon designation by the court to a case, shall be informed of and have the right to attend any and all family support team meetings involving the child.

In court rules: The court may designate a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer to assist in the performance of the GAL duties for the court as provided by law. A nonlawyer CASA volunteer shall not serve as GAL or provide legal representation for the child.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 210.160; Mo. Sup. Ct. Rule 129.04, Appx. C, Std. 14.0

The appointing judge shall have the authority to examine the general and criminal background of persons appointed as GALs, including utilization of the family care safety registry, to ensure the safety and welfare of the children such persons are appointed to represent.

Any person appointed to perform GAL duties shall have completed a training program in permanency planning and shall advocate for timely court hearings whenever possible to attain permanency for a child as expeditiously as possible to reduce the effects that prolonged foster care may have on a child. A nonattorney volunteer advocate shall have access to a court-appointed attorney GAL if the circumstances of the particular case so require.

In court rules: The court shall not appoint a lawyer to serve as GAL until the lawyer has completed 8 hours of continuing legal education devoted to GAL training. Thereafter, to continue to be appointed as a GAL, a lawyer shall complete 3 hours of continuing legal education devoted to GAL training annually. The hours required for GAL training qualify toward the mandatory annual 15 hours of continuing legal education.

Any lawyer who has completed at least 6 hours of GAL training within 5 years prior to the date of the adoption of these standards shall not be required to complete the initial 8-hour course of study. Any lawyer currently approved by the court to serve as a GAL who has not completed any GAL training within 5 years prior to the date of the adoption of these standards shall have 1 year from the date of the adoption of these standards to complete the initial 8 hours of training.

The judge appointing the GAL shall determine whether the lawyer has completed the required training prior to making any appointment. Prior to appointment, the lawyer must have completed a training program in permanency planning.

GAL practice is unique and complex and, as such, requires specialized education, training, and experience. The specialized training may include the following topics:

  • Dynamics of child abuse and neglect issues
  • Factors to consider in determining the best interests of the child, including the required permanency planning and the child's right to be with his or her family
  • Interrelationships between the family system, legal process, and the child welfare system
  • Federal, State, and local legislation and case law affecting children
  • Cultural and ethnic diversity and gender-specific issues
  • Family and domestic violence issues
  • Available community resources and services
  • Child development issues
  • GAL standards

The GAL is not expected to make diagnostic or therapeutic recommendations. The GAL must have a working knowledge of family dynamics and be able to compare and relate this concept to the observations, reports, and documentation received regarding the child and the child's family.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 210.160; Sup. Ct. Rule 129.04, Appx. C, Std. 3.0-13.0

The GAL shall be provided with all reports relevant to the case made to or by any agency or person; shall have access to all records of such agencies or persons relating to the child or the child's family members or placements of the child; and, upon appointment by the court to a case, shall be informed of and have the right to attend any and all family support team meetings involving the child. Employees of the Children's Division, officers of the court, and employees of any agency involved shall fully inform the GAL of all aspects of the case of which they have knowledge or belief.

The appointing judge shall require the GAL to faithfully discharge his or her duties and upon failure to do so shall discharge the GAL and appoint another.

In court rules: A GAL shall be guided by the best interests of the child and shall exercise independent judgment on behalf of the child in all matters.

The duties, responsibilities, and privileges of the GAL include the following:

  • Provide factual information to the court
  • Diligently advocate a position in the best interests of the child
  • Participate fully in any proceedings and not merely defer to the other parties
  • Examine, cross-examine, subpoena witnesses, and offer testimony
  • File petitions, motions, parenting plans, responses, or objections
  • Conduct all necessary interviews with persons having contact with or knowledge of the child in order to ascertain the child's wishes, feelings, attachments, and attitudes
  • Conduct interviews with the child except when the child is too young or some other legitimate circumstance prevents an interview
  • Conduct regular face-to-face meetings with the child, to the extent appropriate, to observe the child's physical, mental, social, educational, and familial well-being and to form opinions concerning the child's best interests
  • Have access to the child at reasonable times and places
  • Receive all reports relevant to the case and have access to all relevant records relating to the child, the placement of the child, or the child's family members
  • Comply with all statutes, rules, and regulations relating to the receipt of confidential or privileged information received as GAL
  • Review the progress of a child's case through the court process and advocate for timely hearings, provision of necessary services, and compliance with court orders
  • Explain, when appropriate, the court process and the role of the GAL to the child
  • Ensure that the child is informed of the purpose of each court proceeding
  • Participate, when appropriate, in the development and negotiation of any service plans, parenting plans, proposed orders, and staffings that affect the best interests of the child
  • Monitor implementation of service plans and court orders to determine whether services ordered by the court are being provided in a timely manner
  • Appear at all court proceedings in which the GAL is appointed and participate actively and fully in all court proceedings
  • Present a recommendation to the court consistent with the best interests of the child
  • Inform the court of the child's wishes and preferences even though different from the GAL's recommendation

To make a recommendation to the court that serves the child's best interests, the GAL should have knowledge of the child's circumstances from all sources, including, but not limited to, the parents, caseworker, teachers, treatment providers, and CASA volunteers. If the GAL determines there is conflict between advocating for the best interests of the child and representation of the child's preferences, the GAL shall continue to perform as the GAL for the child and may request that the court appoint another lawyer to represent the child's preferences.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Stat. § 210.160

The GAL may be awarded a reasonable fee to be set by the court. The court, in its discretion, may award fees as a judgment to be paid by any party to the proceedings or from public funds. However, no fees as a judgment shall be taxed against a party or parties that have not been found to have abused or neglected a child or children. Such an award of guardian fees shall constitute a final judgment in favor of the GAL.

A volunteer advocate shall receive no compensation from public funds. This shall not preclude reimbursement for reasonable expenses.