When children come under the care of Child Protective Services (CPS), they often feel disconnected from the decisions being made regarding their lives and lack a sense of control.
Well according to a new law that will take effect on September 1, 2013, some children will now have extra rights.
Problems from Aging Out
“A child “ages out” of foster care when he or she leaves the child welfare system never having found a permanent placement or family. Many times, these youth lack the supports and skills needed to navigate life independently and thrive as an adult.
Statistics show that foster youth, as a group, struggle more than other young adults and experience high rates of homelessness, joblessness, and poverty. During their time in foster care, many youth can feel disconnected from the decisions being made regarding their lives and lack a sense of control.
Additionally, youth are not always provided opportunities to develop skills for effective decision-making and self-advocacy and, in turn, are unable to navigate independence as an adult successfully.”
Right to be Seen AND Heard
Let’s face it, most adults don’t listen to what children have to say. Sometimes, our legal system is so focused on what we perceive to be the “best interest of the child” but do not consider how the best interest of the child can be served by just listening.
Under this new legislation, a child that is 10 years of age and older MUST receive at least 10 days notice of any Permanency Hearing, and will be entitled to present evidence and be heard at that hearing. This right would also extend to any other child, regardless of age, if the Court determines that it is appropriate for that child to receive notice.
I know what you’re thinking. “How in the heck can a 10 year old child present evidence in Court?!” Well, before you worry about 10 year old Matlock, we should talk very briefly about the legal representation that is currently appointed to for every child in every CPS case.
Attorney ad Litem / Guardian ad Litem
When CPS seeks conservatorship, the first thing the Court does is appoint an Attorney ad Litem to represent the child during the legal proceedings. The Court also appoints a Guardian ad Litem to investigate and make a recommendation to the Court as to the best interest of the child during the proceedings.
Often, these two roles can be taken on by the same person (the Attorney ad Litem) or it can be split and a non-attorney may fill the role as Guardian ad Litem. Here on the South Plains, we have an excellent non-profit organization that is full of volunteers and dedicated workers who sometimes fill this role. This organization is CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates).
So you see, this 10 year old child will not be forced to show up for Court and defend/advocate for himself without assistance. This child will at least have a licensed Attorney by his/her side, and maybe even a CASA volunteer.
Why the Change?
According to the sponsor of this bill, this youth able to appropriately engage in the process should be afforded notice of their court hearings, which will ensure youth are provided the opportunity to express their position to the Court and benefit from the hearing review process.
The author of the bill also stated that improvements are needed to ensure that individualized and appropriate service planning takes into account the youth’s perspective, that youth are provided the opportunity to take ownership of and joint responsibility for their transition planning, and that youth can gain a sense of empowerment as individuals.
As an Attorney ad Litem, and frequent Guardian ad Litem, I believe that this change has the potential to do a lot of good for children that feel they have no control over their destiny, as long as we are mindful of the pitfalls that may accompany their access to the nitty gritty details of their parents lack of progress in fulfilling their service plans.
–Authored by Matthew L. Harris, Esq.,
Matthew Harris Law, PLLC – Family Law Division
1001 Main Street, Suite 200, Lubbock, Texas, 79401-3309
Tel: (806) 702-4852 | Fax: (800) 985-9479