Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Tennessee

Date: June 2021

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 37-1-149; 37-1-610

In any proceeding resulting from a report of harm or an investigation report under §§ 37-1-401 to 37-1-411, the court shall appoint a guardian ad litem (GAL) for the child who was the subject of the report. A party to the proceeding or the party's employee or representative shall not be appointed. A court-appointed special advocate (CASA) also may be appointed.

A GAL shall be appointed to represent the child in any child sexual abuse proceeding.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-149

The court also may appoint a nonlawyer special advocate trained in accordance with that role and in accordance with the standards of the Tennessee Court Appointed Special Advocates Association to act in the best interests of a child before, during, and after court proceedings.

The CASA shall conduct such investigation and make such reports and recommendations pertaining to the welfare of a child as the court may order or direct.


Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-149

Any GAL appointed by the court shall receive training appropriate to that role prior to such appointment. The training shall include, but is not limited to, training in early childhood, child, and adolescent development provided by a qualified professional.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-602; TN Sup. Ct. Rule 40

A GAL is a responsible adult who is appointed by the court to represent the best interests of a child in a proceeding as provided for by law, who shall be a party to any judicial proceeding as a representative of the child, and who shall serve until discharged by the court.

In court rules: The GAL is appointed by the court to represent the child by advocating for the child's best interests and ensuring that the child's concerns and preferences are effectively advocated. The child, not the court, is the client of the GAL.

The responsibilities and duties of the GAL include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Conducting an independent investigation that includes the following:
    • Reviewing court files; Department of Children's Services' records; and the child's psychiatric, psychological, substance use, medical, school, and other records relevant to the case
    • Interviewing the parents and other individuals involved with the child, including school personnel, caseworkers, foster parents or other caregivers, neighbors, relatives, coaches, clergy, mental health professionals, and physicians
    • Reviewing records of the parents, including, when relevant to the case, psychiatric, psychological, substance use, medical, criminal, and law enforcement records
    • Reviewing relevant photographs, video, or audio tapes and other evidence
    • Engaging and consulting with professionals and others with relevant special expertise
  • Explaining to the child, in a developmentally appropriate manner, the child's rights; the court process; the GAL's role and responsibilities; and what to expect before, during, and after each hearing or review
  • Representing the child at all hearings, including the permanency plan staffings, court reviews, foster care review board hearings, and permanency hearings
  • Consulting with the child prior to court hearings and when apprised of emergencies or significant events affecting the child
  • Assessing the needs of the child and the available resources within the family and community to meet the child's needs
  • Ensuring that if the child is to testify, the child is prepared and the manner and circumstances of the child's testimony are designed to minimize any harm that might be caused by testifying
  • Advocating the position that serves the best interests of the child
  • Monitoring compliance with the orders of the court and ensuring that services are being provided
  • Ensuring that the services and responsibilities listed in the permanency plan are in the child's best interests
  • Ensuring that particular attention is paid to maintaining and maximizing appropriate contacts with family members and friends

If the child asks the GAL to advocate a position that the GAL believes is not in the child's best interest, the GAL shall do the following:

  • Fully investigate all the circumstances relevant to the child's position and identify all the factual support for the child's position
  • Advise the child about the different options or positions that might be available, including the potential risks and benefits of each option or position

If, after fully investigating and advising the child, the GAL is still in a position in which the child is urging the GAL to take a position that the GAL believes is contrary to the child's best interests, the GAL shall pursue one of the following options:

  • Request that the court appoint another lawyer to serve as GAL and then advocate for the child's position while the other lawyer advocates for the child's best interests
  • Request that the court appoint another lawyer to represent the child in advocating the child's position and then advocate the position that the GAL believes serves the best interests of the child

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Code § 37-1-610

The court shall order the perpetrator in all child sexual abuse cases, whether such person is a parent or other person, to fully reimburse the court for the cost of provision of GAL services. Reimbursement to the individual providing such services shall not be contingent upon successful collection by the court from the parent or parents.