Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Pennsylvania

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 42, §§ 6311; 6342

When a proceeding has been initiated alleging that the child is a dependent child, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the legal interests and the best interests of the child.

The court may appoint or discharge a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) at any time during a proceeding or investigation regarding dependency.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 42, §§ 6302; 6342

A CASA is an individual appointed by the court to participate as an advocate for a child who is dependent or alleged to be dependent. Following appointment by the court, the CASA shall do the following:

  • Have full access to and review all records, including child protective services records, relating to the child and other information, unless otherwise restricted by the court
  • Interview the child and other appropriate persons, as necessary, to develop his or her recommendations
  • Receive reasonable prior notice of all hearings, staff meetings, investigations, or other proceedings relating to the child
  • Receive reasonable prior notice of the movement of the child from one placement to another placement, the return of a child to the home, the removal of a child from the home, or any action that materially affects the treatment of the child
  • Submit written reports to the court to assist the court in determining the disposition best suited to the health, safety, and welfare of the child
  • Submit copies of all written reports and recommendations to all parties and any attorney of a party

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 42, §§ 6311; 6342; Pa. Code Tit. 37, § 200.221

The GAL must be an attorney-at-law.

Prior to appointment, a CASA shall meet the following qualifications:

  • Be age 21 or older
  • Successfully pass screening requirements, including criminal history and child abuse background checks
  • Successfully complete the training requirements established by the Juvenile Court Judges' Commission and by the court of common pleas of the county where the CASA will serve

In regulation: Training provided to CASAs shall conform to the curriculum 'Comprehensive Training for the CASA/GAL,' available from the National Court-Appointed Special Advocate Association, or its equivalent. The training that is offered to CASAs shall utilize a variety of instructors, including CASA program staff, attorneys, judges, agency representatives, and volunteers.

CASAs shall successfully complete at least 30 hours of preservice training before being assigned to a case. This preservice training, at a minimum, shall include the following:

  • The roles and responsibilities of a CASA volunteer
  • Court process, including dependency proceedings and involuntary termination of parental rights proceedings
  • The dynamics of human behavior associated with child abuse and neglect
  • Relevant State and Federal laws
  • Confidentiality and recordkeeping practices
  • Child development
  • Child abuse and neglect
  • Permanency planning and resources
  • Community agencies and resources
  • Communication and information gathering, including interviewing and report writing skill development
  • Advocacy
  • Special needs of the children served, including differences in cultural and socioeconomic norms, values, and heritage
  • The identification of personal and institutional bias or discrimination as it relates to the children and families being served
  • The opportunity to visit and observe court proceedings
  • Ethics relating to the role of the CASA
  • Expectations regarding appearance and demeanor

CASA volunteers shall be provided with at least 12 hours of inservice training annually.

Specific Duties

Citation: Cons. Stat. Tit. 42, § 6311

The GAL shall be charged with representation of the legal interests and the best interests of the child at every stage of the proceedings and shall do all the following:

  • Meet with the child as soon as possible following appointment and on a regular basis thereafter in a manner appropriate to the child's age and maturity
  • Be given access to relevant court and county agency records; reports of examination of the parents or other custodian of the child; and medical, psychological, and school records on a timely basis
  • Participate in all proceedings and administrative hearings and reviews to the degree necessary to adequately represent the child
  • Conduct such further investigation necessary to ascertain the facts
  • Interview potential witnesses, including the child's parents, caregivers, and foster parents; examine and cross-examine witnesses; and present witnesses and evidence necessary to protect the best interests of the child
  • Be advised by the county agency having legal custody of the child of the following at the earliest possible date:
    • Any plan to relocate the child or modify custody or visitation arrangements, and the reasons why, prior to the relocation or change in custody or visitation
    • Any proceeding, investigation, or hearing directly affecting the child
  • Make specific recommendations to the court relating to the appropriateness and safety of the child's placement and services necessary to address the child's needs and safety
  • Explain the proceedings to the child as appropriate to the child's age and mental and emotional condition
  • Advise the court of the child's wishes to the extent that they can be ascertained and present to the court whatever evidence exists to support the child's wishes

A difference between the child's wishes and the GAL's recommendations shall not be considered a conflict of interest for the GAL.

How the Representative Is Compensated

This issue is not addressed in the statutes reviewed.