Representation of Children in Child Abuse and Neglect Proceedings - Virginia

Date:

Making The Appointment

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 16.1-266; 9.1-153

Prior to the hearing by the court of any case involving a child who is alleged to be abused or neglected or who is the subject of an entrustment agreement or a petition seeking termination of residual parental rights or who is otherwise before the court pursuant to § 16.1-241(a)(4) or § 63.2-1230, the court shall appoint a discreet and competent attorney-at-law as guardian ad litem (GAL) to represent the child.

The director of the court-appointed special advocate (CASA) program shall assign an advocate to a child when requested to do so by the judge of the juvenile and domestic relations district court having jurisdiction over the proceedings. The advocate shall continue his or her association with each case to which he or she is assigned until relieved of his or her duties by the court or by the program director.

The Use of Court-Appointed Special Advocates (CASAs)

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 9.1-151; 9.1-153

The Department of Criminal Justice Services shall administer a CASA program. The program shall provide services to children who are subjects of judicial proceedings (i) involving allegations that the child is abused, neglected, in need of services, or in need of supervision or (ii) for the restoration of parental rights pursuant to § 16.1-283.2 and for whom the juvenile and domestic relations district court judge determines such services are appropriate. CASA volunteer appointments may continue for youth age 18 and older who are in foster care if the court has retained jurisdiction pursuant to § 16.1-241(Z) or § 16.1-242, and the juvenile and domestic relations district court judge determines such services are appropriate.

The program shall provide services to children who are subjects of judicial proceedings involving allegations that the child is abused, neglected, or in need of services and for whom the juvenile and domestic relations district court judge determines such services are appropriate. Services in each local CASA program shall be provided by volunteer CASAs, hereinafter referred to as advocates.

Qualifications/Training

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 16.1-266.1; 9.1-153

The Judicial Council of Virginia, in conjunction with the Virginia State Bar and the Virginia Bar Association, shall adopt standards for attorneys appointed as GALs. The standards shall, as far as practicable, take into consideration the following criteria:

  • License or permission to practice law in Virginia
  • Current training in the roles, responsibilities, and duties of GAL representation
  • Familiarity with the court system and general background in juvenile law
  • Demonstrated proficiency in this area of the law

The Judicial Council shall maintain a list of attorneys who are qualified to serve as GALs based upon the standards and shall make the names available to the courts. If no attorney who is on the list is reasonably available, a judge in his or her discretion, may appoint any discreet and competent attorney who is admitted to practice law in Virginia.

The Department of Criminal Justice Services shall adopt regulations governing the qualifications of advocates who shall be deemed to be criminal justice employees. An advocate must be at least age 21, and the program director shall obtain a copy of the advocate's criminal history record and information from the central registry on child abuse and neglect to certify that no records are maintained on him or her.

An advocate shall have no associations that create a conflict of interest or the appearance of such a conflict with his or her duties as an advocate. No advocate shall be assigned to a case of a child whose family has a professional or personal relationship with the advocate.

No applicant shall be assigned as an advocate until successful completion of a program of training required by regulations. The department shall set standards for both basic and ongoing training.

Specific Duties

Citation: Ann. Code § 9.1-153; Va. Sup. Ct. Rule 8:6

The advocate's duties shall include the following:

  • Investigating the case to which he or she is assigned to provide independent factual information to the court
  • Submitting to the court a written report of his or her investigation in compliance with the provisions of § 16.1-274
  • Upon request of the court, making recommendations as to the child's welfare
  • Monitoring the case to ensure compliance with the court's orders
  • Assisting the GAL appointed to represent the child in providing effective representation of the child's needs and best interests
  • Reporting a suspected abused or neglected child pursuant to § 63.2-1509

The advocate is not a party to the case to which he or she is assigned and shall not call witnesses or examine witnesses. The advocate shall not, with respect to the case to which he or she is assigned, provide legal counsel or advice to any person, appear as counsel in court or in proceedings that are part of the judicial process, or engage in the unauthorized practice of law. The advocate may testify if called as a witness.

The program director shall assign an advocate to a child when requested to do so by the judge of the juvenile and domestic relations district court having jurisdiction over the proceedings. The advocate shall continue his or her association with each case to which he or she is assigned until relieved of his or her duties by the court or by the program director. The program director may assign an advocate to attend and participate in family partnership meetings, as defined by the Department of Social Services, and in meetings of family assessment and planning teams established pursuant to § 2.2-5208, multidisciplinary child sexual abuse response teams established pursuant to § 15.2-1627.5, individualized education program teams established pursuant to § 22.1-213 et seq., and multidisciplinary teams established pursuant to §§ 63.2-1503 and 63.2-1505.

In court rules: The role of counsel for a child is the representation of the child's legitimate interests.

When appointed for a child, the GAL must vigorously represent the child, fully protecting the child's interest and welfare. The GAL must advise the court of the wishes of the child in any case in which the wishes of the child conflict with the opinion of the GAL as to what is in the child's interest and welfare.

How the Representative Is Compensated

Citation: Ann. Code §§ 16.1-267; 9.1-152

When the court appoints counsel to represent a child and, after an investigation by the court services unit, finds that the parents are financially able to pay for the attorney and refuse to do so, the court shall assess costs against the parents for such legal services in the maximum amount of that awarded the attorney by the court under the circumstances of the case, considering such factors as the ability of the parents to pay and the nature and extent of the counsel's duties in the case. Such amount shall not exceed the maximum amount specified in § 19.2-163(1) if the action is in district court.

For good cause shown, or upon the failure by the GAL to substantially comply with the standards adopted for attorneys appointed as GALs pursuant to § 16.1-266.1, the court may adjust the cost sought by the GAL of such services.

The Department of Criminal Justice Services shall provide a portion of any funding appropriated for this purpose to applicants seeking to establish and operate a local CASA program in their respective judicial districts. Only local programs operated in accordance with this article shall be eligible to receive State funds.