Whether a child should or should not have a lawyer appointed in child welfare proceedings is an easy question for me to answer: yes! They are the most important person in the entire court case. In fact, they are the reason everyone is there.
Unfortunately, Washington State disagrees. They decided against a child getting a lawyer automatically at the start of a case. Now a child will not receive a lawyer until a judge decides they deserve or need one.
I very much disagree with the Washington Supreme Court’s decision in this matter. Certainly one can leave the matter to the discretion of the individual judge on a case by case basis as they do; but a guarantee of counsel does more to safeguard the rights of children. Automatic appointments mean a child will receive prompt legal counsel. It safeguards them having some small say in their lives.
In Arizona a child will either be appointed a child directed attorney or a Guardian ad Litem when they are the subject of child welfare proceedings (these are proceedings involving the Arizona Department of Child Safety and commonly called dependency proceedings). Guardian ad Litems are attorneys appointed to represent the best interests of a child (especially helpful for a very young child) and child directed attorneys are attorney who are mandated to advocate for what the child wants. Both of these types of lawyers help guarantee that the child gains meaningful representation in the courtroom. It’s not perfect, but we are working hard to ensure that children, no matter how young or old, get some say in their own case.
I’m certain that the Washington State decision will have unforeseen consequences and I know that many in the child welfare world are watching to see what the consequences of this decision will be.
If you have an interest in Washington’s decision I highly recommend this article from the Seattle Times: