On Monday, October 25, 2021, the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) started a new campaign, Counsel for Kids. According to a statement by the organization,
“With 673,000 children navigating America’s child welfare courts every year and enduring concerns about unequal access to justice, today the National Association of Counsel for Children (NACC) launches a new campaign, Counsel for Kids, dedicated to ensuring that children in foster care receive lawyers of their own. A first-of-its-kind effort, Counsel for Kids will equip advocates with the skills, tools, and training to amplify the voices of children and youth as key decisions are made about their families and their futures.”
The campaign is designed to help mobilize advocates and legal professionals to change the law in states that do not currently guarantee legal representation for kids in court. The campaign will provide technical assistance to advocates and organizations around drafting and proposing legislation, building coalitions, strategic policy advocacy, and communications. It will also focus on increasing the number of attorneys representing children and ensuring those lawyers receive the specialized training they need.
NACC Executive Director Kim Dvorchak said “Too often, the one person at the center of a child welfare case is also the one person who doesn’t get their own lawyer. We launched the Counsel for Kids campaign to ensure that all youth experiencing the child welfare system, from babies to young adults, are seen, heard, and represented. When a young person is sick, they should see a doctor. When a young person is in court, they should have a lawyer.”
Currently the Child Abuse Prevention Treatment Act (CAPTA) requires the appointment of a guardian ad litem who has received appropriate training, including training in early childhood, child, and adolescent development, and who may be an attorney, or a court appointed special advocate (CASA) who has received training appropriate to that role (or both). Over the years the mandate has not been fully enforced throughout the fifty states and many children go without.
The new campaign seeks to strengthen legal representation especially in those states that do not offer such protection. A toolkit includes a factsheets and model legislation among other things. To sign up and get additional information go to Counsel for Kids.