Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Oklahoma

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Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, §§ 1-4-102; 1-4-306

If, in any proceeding concerning child custody or visitation, the evidence indicates that a child has been subject to abuse or neglect, the court shall appoint an attorney to represent the child for that proceeding and any related proceedings and may appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the child as permitted by law.

The court may appoint an attorney or GAL for the child when an emergency custody hearing is held provided that when a petition is filed alleging the child to be deprived, the court shall appoint a separate attorney for the child, who shall not be a district attorney, regardless of any attempted waiver by the parent, legal guardian, or custodian of the child of the right of the child to be represented by counsel. The child's attorney shall be independent of and not selected by the district attorney, the child's parent, legal guardian, or custodian.

The court shall ensure that the child is represented by independent counsel throughout the pendency of the deprived action.

After a petition is filed, the court shall appoint a GAL upon the request of the child or the attorney of the child and may appoint a GAL on its own motion or upon the request of the Department of Human Services, a licensed child-placing agency, or another party to the action.

A GAL shall not be a district attorney, an employee of the office of the district attorney, the child's attorney, an employee of the court, an employee of a juvenile bureau, or an employee of any public agency having duties or responsibilities for the child.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, §§ 1-1-105; 1-4-306

A court-appointed special advocate (CASA) is a responsible adult volunteer who has been trained and is supervised by a CASA program recognized by the court and, when appointed by the court, serves as an officer of the court as a GAL.

A CASA program is an organized program, administered by either an independent, not-for-profit corporation; a dependent project of an independent, not-for-profit corporation; or a unit of local government that recruits, screens, trains, assigns, supervises, and supports volunteers to be available for appointment by the court as GALs.

When a CASA program is available to provide a GAL to the court, priority may be given to appointment of the CASA to serve as GAL for the child regardless of whether a GAL has been requested pursuant to the provisions of this subsection.

For purposes of the Oklahoma Children's Code, a CASA and a GAL shall have the same function except as otherwise provided by law. In like manner, a CASA, except as specifically otherwise provided by law or by the court, shall have the same power, duties, and responsibilities assigned to a GAL by law and shall have such other qualifications, duties, and responsibilities as may be prescribed by rule by the supreme court.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, § 1-4-306

The Oklahoma Bar Association shall develop a standard operating manual for GALs that shall include, but not be limited to, legal obligations and responsibilities; information concerning child abuse, child development, domestic abuse, and sexual abuse; parent and child behavioral health; and management, including best practices. After publication of the manual, all GALs shall certify to the court in which he or she is appointed as a GAL that the manual has been read and all provisions contained therein are understood. The GAL also shall certify that he or she agrees to follow the best practices described within the standard operating manual. The Administrative Office of the Courts shall provide public access to the standard operating manual by providing a link to the manual on the Oklahoma State Courts Network (OSCN) website.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, § 1-4-306

The attorney appointed for the child shall arrange to meet with the child as soon as possible after receiving notification of the appointment. To the extent that a child is unable to express an interest, either because the child is preverbal, very young, or for any reason incapable of judgment and meaningful communication, the attorney shall substitute his or her judgment for that of the child and formulate and present a position that serves the best interests of the child. Such formulation must be accomplished through the use of objective criteria rather than solely the life experience or instinct of the attorney. The objective criteria shall include, but not be limited to the following:

  • A determination of the circumstances of the child through a full and efficient investigation
  • An assessment of the child at the time of the determination
  • An examination of all options in light of the permanency plans available to the child
  • Utilization of medical, mental health, and educational professionals; social workers; and other related experts

The attorney shall represent the child and any expressed interests of the child. The attorney shall make such further inquiry as the attorney deems necessary to ascertain the facts, to interview witnesses, examine and cross-examine witnesses, make recommendations to the court, and participate further in the proceedings to the degree appropriate for adequately representing the interests of the child.

The GAL shall be appointed to objectively advocate on behalf of the child and act as an officer of the court to investigate all matters concerning the best interests of the child. A GAL shall have the following responsibilities:

  • Review documents, reports, records, and other information relevant to the case; meet with and observe the child in appropriate settings, including the child's current placement; and interview parents, foster parents, health-care providers, child protective services workers, and any other person with knowledge relevant to the case
  • Advocate for the best interests of the child by participating in the case, attending any hearings in the matter, and advocating for appropriate services for the child when necessary
  • Monitor the best interests of the child throughout any judicial proceeding
  • Present written reports on the best interests of the child that include conclusions and recommendations and the facts upon which they are based

The GAL shall be given access to court and agency files and all documents, reports, records, and other information relevant to the case, including reports generated by service providers.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Stat. Tit. 10A, § 1-4-306

If financially capable, the parent, legal guardian, or custodian shall reimburse the court fund for the services of a court appointed attorney for the child. The attorney shall be allowed a reasonable fee for such services as determined by the court.

When an attorney is required to travel to more than one district court location in order to represent a child or children whom the attorney has been court-appointed to represent, the court may, in its discretion, allow the attorney a reasonable reimbursement for mileage.

A CASA shall serve without compensation.